The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of Dispensationalism -- By: Larry V. Crutchfield

Journal: Conservative Theological Journal
Volume: CTJ 03:8 (Apr 1999)
Article: The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of Dispensationalism
Author: Larry V. Crutchfield

The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of Dispensationalism

Larry V. Crutchfield

Professor of Early Christian History & Culture
Columbia Evangelical Seminary, Longview, WA

Part V—Dispensational Concepts in the Polemicists: Irenaeus


As the scene of the closing years of the Apostle John’s ministry, Asia Minor produced a steady stream of expounders of early dispensational features. It was home to the apostolic fathers Polycarp, and Papias, and the apologists, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and Melito of Sardis. Though not his home, the brief visit to Asia Minor seems nevertheless to have had a profound and lasting influence upon the doctrine of Justin Martyr. But for Irenaeus (c.120–202), the last and greatest of the Asiatic fathers, it was the birthplace of his theology.

As is generally the case with the fathers, what we know of Irenaeus is sketchy. As stated previously, he was the disciple of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and appears himself to have been a native of that city.1 Thus Irenaeus was a third generation Christian. He was a disciple of a disciple of the Apostle John. Concerning his association with Polycarp, Irenaeus related:

For when I was a boy, I saw thee [Florinus] in lower Asia with Polycarp, moving in splendor in the royal court, and endeavoring to gain his approbation. I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his

miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the “Word of life,” Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures.2

Irenaeus went on to say that as he listened attentively to Polycarp he took note of his words in his heart and then faithfully recalled them through the grace of God.3 Those vivid memories “of early youth”4 could only have come from one who was a resident of the see of Polycarp’s ecclesiastical responsibility. It should be noted that as a resi...

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