Friday, November 9, 2007

The Amillennialism of Irenaeus [A.D. 120-202]

The eschatology of Irenaeus is nearly identical to that of Barnabus. Like Barnabus, Irenaeus is falsely touted as being premillennialist. Both fathers held to the 6000 year “day is a thousand years” theory concerning the history of the world, but neither equates the seventh day with a millennium. Instead, like Barnabus, Irenaeus has the world ending after 6,000 years, with no millennium.

The Millennium

“For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded. And for this reason the Scripture says: "Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their adornment. And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works." This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year." (Against Heresies, 5:28:3)

Irenaeus does mention that “the righteous shall reign in the earth” after the resurrection, but that alone does not constitute a literal millennial reign, as this is a postmillennial belief as well. He clearly believes that all thing prophecied "will come to an end at the sixth thousand year", thus eliminating an earthly millennium. Irenaeus does seem to be the first to hold to a rebuilt Jerusalem.

“For all these and other words were unquestionably spoken in reference to the resurrection of the just, which takes place after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule; in [the times of] which [resurrection] the righteous shall reign in the earth, waxing stronger by the sight of the Lord: and through Him they shall become accustomed to partake in the glory of God the Father, and shall enjoy in the kingdom intercourse and communion with the holy angels, and union with spiritual beings; and [with respect to] those whom the Lord shall find in the flesh, awaiting Him from heaven, and who have suffered tribulation, as well as escaped the hands of the Wicked one.” (Against Heresies 5:35:1)

However, this earthly kingdom is described many times by Irenaeus as an eternal kingdom, not a temporary millennium. Irenaeus’ clearest statement on the matter concerns the purpose of Christ Second Advent.

“Has the Word come for the ruin and for the resurrection of many? For the ruin, certainly, of those who do not believe Him, to whom also He has threatened a greater damnation in the judgment-day than that of Sodom and Gomorrah; (Luke 10:12) but for the resurrection of believers, and those who do the will of His Father in heaven. If then the advent of the Son comes indeed alike to all, but is for the purpose of judging, and separating the believing from the unbelieving,” (Against Heresies 5:27:1)

Irenaeus speaks of one resurrection for both believers and unbelievers, and clearly tell us that the purpose of Christ Advent is for judging both, not for establishing an earthly millennium.


Irenaeus is a futurist regarding antichrist, but admits his ignorance regarding the matter.

“We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the Revelation. For ‘he’ [John?] or ‘it’ [Revelation?] was seen . . . towards the end of Domitian’s reign." (Against Heresies 5:30:3)

This statement seems to be the basis for the late dating of the Book of Revelation, though the pronoun could easily refer to the Apostle John himself, as seen above. In any case, Irenaeus admits that he was not sure of antichrist’s identity. Eusebius and others rely on this statement as support for a late date of Revelation, yet contradict themselves in other passages. It also must be noted that Irenaeus was not the best historian of his day, writing that Christ lived to an age of 50 and had an earthly ministry of 15 years.

The Abrahamic Covenant

Regarding Judaism, Irenaeus, like nearly all church fathers, was clearly a proponent of “replacement theology”, viewing the complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant in Christ. This is a recurring problem for any modern premillennialist who seeks to build support for his eschatology from the study of patristics.

“Therefore Abraham also, knowing the. Father through the Word, who made heaven and earth, confessed Him to be God; and having learned, by an announcement [made to him], that the Son of God would be a man among men, by whose advent his seed should be as the stars of heaven, he desired to see that day, so that he might himself also embrace Christ; and, seeing it through the spirit of prophecy, he rejoiced. Wherefore Simeon also, one of his descendants, carried fully out the rejoicing of the patriarch, and said: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light for the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of the people Israel." And the angels, in like manner, announced tidings of great joy to the shepherds who were keeping watch by night. Moreover, Mary said, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my salvation;"--the rejoicing of Abraham descending upon those who sprang from him,--those, namely, who were watching, and who beheld Christ, and believed in Him; while, on the other hand, there was a reciprocal rejoicing which passed backwards from the children to Abraham, who did also desire to see the day of Christ's coming. Rightly, then, did our Lord bear witness to him, saying, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad."For not alone upon Abraham's account did He say these things, but also that He might point out how all who have known God from the beginning, and have foretold the advent of Christ, have received the revelation from the Son Himself; who also in the last times was made visible and passable, and spake with the human race, that He might from the stones raise up children unto Abraham, and fulfil the promise which God had given him, and that He might make his seed as the stars of heaven, as John the Baptist says: "For God is able from these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." Now, this Jesus did by drawing us off from the religion of stones, and bringing us over from hard and fruitless cogitations, and establishing in us a faith like to Abraham. As Paul does also testify, saying that we are children of Abraham because of the similarity of our faith, and the promise of inheritance." (Against Heresies, 4:7:1-2)

In addition, Irenaeus viewed the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 as a sign of the new covenant, as well as the fulfillment of the parable of the wicked vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-45).

“Further, also, concerning Jerusalem and the Lord, they venture to assert that, if it had been "the city of the great King," it would not have been deserted. This is just as if any one should say, that if straw were a creation of God, it would never part company with the wheat; and that the vine twigs, if made by God, never would be lopped away and deprived of the clusters. But as these [vine twigs] have not been originally made for their own sake, but for that of the fruit growing upon them, which being come to maturity and taken away, they are left behind, and those which do not conduce to fructification are lopped off altogether; so also [was it with] Jerusalem, which had in herself borne the yoke of bondage (under which man was reduced, who in former times was not subject to God when death was reigning, and being subdued, became a fit subject for liberty), when the fruit of liberty had come, and reached maturity, and been reaped and stored in the barn, and when those which had the power to produce fruit had been carried away from her [i.e., from Jerusalem], and scattered throughout all the world. Even as Esaias saith, "The children of Jacob shall strike root, and Israel shall flourish, and the whole world shall be filled with his fruit." The fruit, therefore, having been sown throughout all the world, she (Jerusalem) was deservedly forsaken, and those things which had formerly brought forth fruit abundantly were taken away; for from these, according to the flesh, were Christ and the apostles enabled to bring forth fruit. But now these are no longer useful for bringing forth fruit. For all things which have a beginning in time must of course have an end in time also. Since, then, the law originated with Moses, it terminated with John as a necessary consequence. Christ had come to fulfil it: wherefore "the law and the prophets were" with them "until John." And therefore Jerusalem, taking its commencement from David, and fulfilling its own times, must have an end of legislation when the new covenant was revealed." (Against Heresies, 4:4:1-2)

In conclusion, the simplest reading of Irenaeus tends toward amillennialism, with a heavy dose of replacement theology. While Irenaeus was a futurist regarding antichrist, he admitted his own ignorance of the subject. There is very little, if anything, in the writings of Irenaeus that is compatible with modern premillennialism.


Anonymous said...

Concerning The Amillennialism of Irenaeus [A.D. 120-202], this was a good article. Thank you for sharing this perspective. (I am also an Engineer in Virginia, and I lean toward Amillennialism because it is the only system that does not leave glaring difficulties with all the Scriptures. Currently I suspect that, in keeping with the figurative language of Revelation, the first ressurection of chapter 20 is referring to the spiritual ressurection - new birth - of Christians when eternal life is imparted to them. Thus they will not see the second death.)

Alan said...

Irenaeus said he didn't know the name of antichrist. He didn't say he was ignorant about him.

Puritan Lad said...

And what would you suggest the difference would be?

JaredMithrandir said...

His statement on Anitchrist comletly undermine any argument he held to Preterism as it's defined today. Lots of Futurists believe some Bible Prophecy was fulfilled in 70 AD

The thing about thinking Jesus lived till 50 is greatly mis used, he did mean what you think he means. I'd read a good srticle on that once but I don't think I know how to find anymore more.

And the End of the World is a matter of how you look at things. Even today we casually link the events Futurists associated with the 70th week of Daniel's the End of the World.

Hazakim1 said...

Well if you can argue that the disciples were amill....I guess you can twist Irenaus's words as well.

Arenaeus an amiller? This is one of the funniest claims I've ever seen.

Puritan Lad said...


Are you attempting to make an argument to the contrary, or just making an assertion?