Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 4b) – Irenaeus

(Notice: the blog series has moved to Rethinking Conditionalism on Our Common Salvation)

***Please read part 4a first***

In this continuation of Part 4a, we will look at different chapters of Irenaeus’ work that reveal that he really believed in the wicked who continue in eternal punishment, not annihilation. I worded it that way on purpose because those within the Rethinking Hell network believe that this Church Father (and others) simply used “biblical language” to talk about hell, not meaning that the wicked would reside there forever. In the future, I will show why that is simply not true depending on who you mention. You should read the article I’m referring to here if you have not read it already.

Although, I will not elevate the writing of the Church Fathers above Sola Scriptura, I am only taking the time to write about this simply because a claim is made, and being familiar enough with the Church Fathers’ writing, wanted to re-investigate these claims. And predictably, they are out of context. The principles of textual analysis that I will incorporate here in understanding Irenaeus can easily be applied to other writings if need be. One of them being, systematic study of the whole of their writings. Or at the very least, a good chunk of it.

Below is a list of chapters I will reference so that you can click on each of them and read them at your leisure. They will be numbered, and I will quote from them so that you know which link I am referring to.

1. Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 27)

2. Against Heresies (Book IV, Chapter 28)

3. Against Heresies (Book II, Chapter 33)

4. Against Heresies (Book IV, Chapter 39)

5. Against Heresies (Book IV, Chapter 40)

1. Regarding Book V, Chapter 27, Irenaeus recognizes that not only will there be a greater punishment awaiting the wicked than those of Sodom and Gomorrah (a city Chris affirms is an example of annihilation), Irenaeus goes on to say:

“And to as many as continue in their love towards God, does He grant communion with Him. But communion with God is life and light, and the enjoyment of all the benefits which He has in store. But on as many as, according to their own choice, depart from God, He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death, and separation from light is darkness; and separation from God consists in the loss of all the benefits which He has in store. Those, therefore, who cast away by apostasy these forementioned things, being in fact destitute of all good, do experience every kind of punishment. God, however, does not punish them immediately of Himself, but that punishment falls upon them because they are destitute of all that is good. Now, good things are eternal and without end with God, and therefore the loss of these is also eternal and never-ending. It is in this matter just as occurs in the case of a flood of light: those who have blinded themselves, or have been blinded by others, are for ever deprived of the enjoyment of light. It is not, [however], that the light has inflicted upon them the penalty of blindness, but it is that the blindness itself has brought calamity upon them: and therefore the Lord declared, He that believes in Me is not condemned, John 3:18-21 that is, is not separated from God, for he is united to God through faith. On the other hand, He says, He that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God; that is, he separated himself from God of his own accord. For this is the condemnation, that light has come into this world, and men have loved darkness rather than light. For every one who does evil hates the light, and comes not to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that he has wrought them in God.” (emphasis mine)

Don’t miss his point! The opposite of life is death. The opposite of light is darkness. But that death is defined by not having communion and light with Jesus. This is what Jesus affirms in John 17:3 concerning knowing Him as eternal life (and yes, the Greek affirms that Jesus is equating knowing Him and the Father as eternal life contrary to what Chris Date has said. A point that will be published soon). But also, notice that the loss of these is also eternal and never ending. He also mentions how this separation is to experience every kind of punishment. Lest Conditionalist/annihilaitonists believe this affirms their position because eternal conscious torment is not implied,  let’s move on to the next chapter to see if Irenaeus gives any more clues to his meaning of punishment.

2. Regarding Book IV, Chapter 28, Irenaeus states how there is a greater punishment again, but describes this punishment as a time of eternal wrath, fire, and punishment. He says:

“Inasmuch, then, as in both Testaments there is the same righteousness of God [displayed] when God takes vengeance, in the one case indeed typically, temporarily, and more moderately; but in the other, really, enduringly, and more rigidly: for the fire is eternal, and the wrath of God which shall be revealed from heaven from the face of our Lord (as David also says, But the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth ), entails a heavier punishment on those who incur it—the elders pointed out that those men are devoid of sense, who, [arguing] from what happened to those who formerly did not obey God, do endeavor to bring in another Father, setting over against [these punishments] what great things the Lord had done at His coming to save those who received Him, taking compassion upon them; while they keep silence with regard to His judgment; and all those things which shall come upon such as have heard His words, but done them not, and that it were better for them if they had not been born, Matthew 26:24 and that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the judgment than for that city which did not receive the word of His disciplesMatthew 10:15″ (emphasis mine)

“For as, in the New Testament, that faith of men [to be placed] in God has been increased, receiving in addition [to what was already revealed] the Son of God, that man too might be a partaker of God; so is also our walk in life required to be more circumspect, when we are directed not merely to abstain from evil actions, but even from evil thoughts, and from idle words, and empty talk, and scurrilous language: thus also the punishment of those who do not believe the Word of God, and despise His advent, and are turned away backwards, is increased; being not merely temporal, but rendered also eternal. For to whomsoever the Lord shall say, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, Matthew 25:41 these shall be damned for ever; and to whomsoever He shall say, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you for eternity,Matthew 25:34 these do receive the kingdom for ever, and make constant advance in it; since there is one and the same God the Father, and His Word, who has been always present with the human race, by means indeed of various dispensations, and has wrought out many things, and saved from the beginning those who are saved, (for these are they who love God, and follow the Word of God according to the class to which they belong,) and has judged those who are judged, that is, those who forget God, and are blasphemous, and transgressors of His word.” (emphasis mine)

Notice how he expounds that God’s wrath, like the fire, is eternal. And how the punishment is increased and rendered eternal by the nature of their apostasy. He compares how the righteous and their faith is increased that they might be partakers of God, but the those that do not believe, their punishment is also increased, not being merely temporal, but eternal in nature. And, once again, Irenaeus semantically links the ideas of punishment, eternity of the fire, the wrath of God, and the increased and enduring nature of the punishment as greater and more enduring than the kinds that were given to cities like Sodom and Gomorrah. It seems to the conditionalists that unless Irenaeus explicitly says the wicked’s punishment is “eternal conscious torment” Irenaeus doesn’t mean what we think it means. Moving forward.

3. Regarding Book II, Chapter 33, which is in part 4a, if you remember, Irenaeus affirms that body and soul will suffer punishment in hell. If you take the ideas that he already asserted above, and link it with his understanding concerning the body and soul and how they will endure eternal punishment in comparison to the righteous who will experience eternal life, then what else are we to assert? That the body and soul will experience an eternal punishment that is not annihilation! Once again, please re-read Part 4a to see what I am talking about in this regard. Let’s keep moving.

4. Regarding Book IV, Chapter 39, Irenaeus gives a gospel presentation concerning the rewards for the just and the unjust. For the sake of space and brevity, I will post only what will happen to the wicked here. However, I highly encourage you to read this portion in its full context. To the wicked Irenaeus says:

“If, however, you will not believe in Him, and will flee from His hands, the cause of imperfection shall be in you who did not obey, but not in Him who called [you]. For He commissioned [messengers] to call people to the marriage, but they who did not obey Him deprived themselves of the royal supper. Matthew 22:3, etc. The skill of God, therefore, is not defective, for He has power of the stones to raise up children to Abraham; Matthew 3:9 but the man who does not obtain it is the cause to himself of his own imperfection. Nor, [in like manner], does the light fail because of those who have blinded themselves; but while it remains the same as ever, those who are [thus] blinded are involved in darkness through their own fault. The light does never enslave any one by necessity; nor, again, does God exercise compulsion upon any one unwilling to accept the exercise of His skill. Those persons, therefore, who have apostatized from the light given by the Father, and transgressed the law of liberty, have done so through their own fault, since they have been created free agents, and possessed of power over themselves.”

“But God, foreknowing all things, prepared fit habitations for both, kindly conferring that light which they desire on those who seek after the light of incorruption, and resort to it; but for the despisers and mockers who avoid and turn themselves away from this light, and who do, as it were, blind themselves, He has prepared darkness suitable to persons who oppose the light, and He has inflicted an appropriate punishment upon those who try to avoid being subject to Him. Submission to God is eternal rest, so that they who shun the light have a place worthy of their flight; and those who fly from eternal rest, have a habitation in accordance with their fleeing. Now, since all good things are with God, they who by their own determination fly from God, do defraud themselves of all good things; and having been [thus] defrauded of all good things with respect to God, they shall consequently fall under the just judgment of God. For those persons who shun rest shall justly incur punishment, and those who avoid the light shall justly dwell in darkness. For as in the case of this temporal light, those who shun it do deliver themselves over to darkness, so that they do themselves become the cause to themselves that they are destitute of light, and do inhabit darkness; and, as I have already observed, the light is not the cause of such an [unhappy] condition of existence to them; so those who fly from the eternal light of God, which contains in itself all good things, are themselves the cause to themselves of their inhabiting eternal darkness, destitute of all good things, having become to themselves the cause of [their consignment to] an abode of that nature.”

Please pay attention to the language here. Hell is a habitation and an abode. It is not temporal, but eternal. It’s permanent. It is a place of darkness (or outer darkness as the Scripture states). Now, outer darkness has a middle eastern context that gave it a certain feel of judgment, which does not imply annihilation as Chris Date asserts. But here, Irenaeus uses this biblical terminology to illustrate where the wicked will be forever. Once again, there is a semantical link between the punishment, darkness, and the opposite of rest with God. Taking this paragraph into consideration with the other paragraphs, it doesn’t take a linguist to interpret that Irenaeus believes in an eternal abode where the wicked will continually receive their punishment forever. To say otherwise is to ignore the obvious and to be reckless and linguistically deceitful. Let’s reveal our last point and then conclude.

5. In this last area, regarding Book IV, Chapter 40, Irenaeus has much to say about what will happen to the wicked. He makes a case that The Son and Father are not two separate Gods casting judgment and life, but that the Son has authority to do both as much as the Father. But look what he says concerning the wicked. If we are to consider all that was previously stated in relation to this chapter, we can conclude, even with minimal information, that Irenaeus’ view of eternal punishment is in line with eternal conscious torment. He states:

“It is therefore one and the same God the Father who has prepared good things with Himself for those who desire His fellowship, and who remain in subjection to Him; and who has the eternal fire for the ringleader of the apostasy, the devil, and those who revolted with him, into which [fire] the Lord Matthew 25:41 has declared those men shall be sent who have been set apart by themselves on His left hand. And this is what has been spoken by the prophet, I am a jealous God, making peace, and creating evil things;Isaiah 45:7 thus making peace and friendship with those who repent and turn to Him, and bringing [them to] unity, but preparing for the impenitent, those who shun the light, eternal fire and outer darkness, which are evils indeed to those persons who fall into them.

“If, however, it were truly one Father who confers rest, and another God who has prepared the fire, their sons would have been equally different [one from the other]; one, indeed, sending [men] into the Father’s kingdom, but the other into eternal fire. But inasmuch as one and the same Lord has pointed out that the whole human race shall be divided at the judgment, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats,Matthew 25:32 and that to some He will say, Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you,Matthew 25:34 but to others, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which My Father has prepared for the devil and his angels,Matthew 25:41 one and the same Father is manifestly declared [in this passage], making peace and creating evil things,preparing fit things for both; as also there is one Judge sending both into a fit place, as the Lord sets forth in the parable of the tares and the wheat, where He says, As therefore the tares are gathered together, and burned in the fire, so shall it be at the end of the world. The Son of man shall send His angels, and they shall gather from His kingdom everything that offends, and those who work iniquity, and shall send them into a furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the just shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.Matthew 13:40-43 The Father, therefore, who has prepared the kingdom for the righteous, into which the Son has received those worthy of it, is He who has also prepared the furnace of fire, into which these angels commissioned by the Son of man shall send those persons who deserve it, according to God’s command.” (emphasis mine)

Notice how he mentions shunning light again as he previously did, and how he semantically links darkness and eternal fire together. All of which he mentions as being forever. Hell is a fitting place, as he mentioned, for Satan and his angels, as well as those who are of his breed. And if you read Part 2a of this series, it falls perfectly in line with the exegesis of Matthew 25 where Jesus shows us how the fire is in and of itself eternal, and that the punishment that goes on there is also eternal, permanent, and enduring. Furthermore, I seriously doubt this will convince our totally committed conditionalists. But that is not why I am writing this. I wanted to show why making Irenaeus an annihilationist was a complete farce and how Rethinking Hell and their ministry have a lot rethinking to do concerning Irenaeus. At the least, I don’t really care what Irenaeus believed. I only care about the truth. In this case, Rethinking Hell bears false witness.

-Until we go home

2 thoughts on “Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 4b) – Irenaeus

  1. I greatly appreciate your well written well researched articles. I too am drawn to the teachings of the early church fathers. It is agreed that they can never be equated with the scriptures themselves. In theory the first and second generations from the actual Apostles would tend to be less likely to be corrupted by the traditions of men than subsequent generations.
    Major aspects of their eschatology conflict with all current major views be they pre or post or Amill.


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