Irenaeus Debunks Gospels

From: Larry Sites

Church father shows that Jesus died of old age, debunking the gospel account of his death in his thirties:

8. IRENAEUS (120-c. 200) Saint, Martyr, Bishop of Lyons; ex- Pagan of Smyrna, who emigrated to Gaul and became Bishop; "information of his life is scarce, and [as usual] in some measure inexact. ... Nothing is known of the date of his death, which may have occurred at the end of the second or beginning of the third century." (CE., vii, 130.) How then is it known that he was a Martyr? Of him Photius, ablest early critic in the Church, warns that in some of his works "the purity of truth, with respect to ecclesiastical traditions, is adulterated by his false and spurious readings" (Phot.; Bibl. ch. cxx); -- though why this invidious distinction of Irenaeus among all the clerical corruptors of "tradition" is not clear. The only surviving work of Irenaeus in four prolific Books is his notable Adversus Haereses, or, as was its full title, "A Refutation and Subversion of Knowledge falsely so Called," -- though he succeeds in falsely subverting no little real knowledge by his own idle fables. This work is called "one of the most precious remains of early Christian antiquity." Bishop St. Irenaeus quotes one apt sentiment from Homer, the precept of which he seems to approve, but which he and his Church confreres did not much put into practice:

"Hateful to me that man as Hades' gates, Who one thing thinks, while he another states." (Iliad, ix, 312, 313; Adv. Haer. III, xxxiii, 3.)
Jesus Died Of Old Age!

Most remarkable of the "heresies" attacked and refuted by Bishop Irenaeus, is one which had just gained currency in written form in the newly published "Gospels of Jesus Christ," in the form of the "tradition" that Jesus had been crucified to death early in the thirties of his life, after a preaching career of only about one year, according to three of the new Gospels, of about three years, according to the fourth. This is rankly false and fictitious, on the "tradition" of the real gospel and of all the Apostles, avows Bishop Irenaeus, like Bishop Papias earlier in the century; and he boldly combated it as "heresy." It is not true, he asserts, that Jesus Christ died so early in life and after so brief a career. "How is it possible," be demands, "that the Lord preached for one year only?"; and on the quoted authority of John the Apostle himself, of "the true Gospel," and of "all the elders," the saintly Bishop urges the falsity and "heresy" of the Four Gospels on this crucial point. Textually, and with quite fanciful reasonments, he says that Jesus did not die so soon:

"For he came to save all through means of Himself -- all, I say, who through Him are born again to God -- infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age; a youth for youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise He was an old man for old men, that He might be a perfect Master for all, not merely as respects the setting forth of the truth, but also as regards age, sanctifying at the same time the aged also, and becoming an example to them likewise. Then, at last, He came on to death itself, that He might be 'the first-born from the dead.'

"They, however, that they may establish their false opinion regarding that which is written, 'to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,' maintain that he preached for one year only, and then suffered in the twelfth month. [In speaking thus], they are forgetful to their own disadvantage, destroying His work and robbing Him of that age which is both more necessary and more honorable than any other; that more advanced age, I mean, during which also, as a teacher, He excelled all others. ...

"Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onward to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, even as the Gospel and all the elders testify; those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord, (affirming) that John conveyed to them that information. AND HE REMAINED AMONG THEM UP TO THE TIMES OF TRAJAN [Roman Emperor, A.D. 98-117]. Some of them, moreover, saw not only John, but the other Apostles also, and heard the very same account from them, and bear testimony as to [the validity of ] the statement. Whom then should we rather believe?" (Iren. Adv. Haer. Bk. II, ch. xxii, secs. 3, 4, 5; ANF. I, 891-2.)

The Bishop's closing question is pertinent, and we shall come back to it in due course.

Irenaeus also vouches his belief in magic arts, repeating as true the fabulous stories of Simon Magus and his statue in the Tiber and the false recital of the inscription on it; and as a professional heresy-hunter he falls upon Simon as the Father of Heresy: "Now this Simon of Samaria, from whom all heresies derive their origin. ... The successor of this man was Menander, also a Samaritan by birth; and he, too, was a perfect adept in the practice of magic." (Adv. Haer. I, xxiii; ANF. i, 348.)