The Four Pillars: The Fourfold Gospel Before The Time Of Irenaeus -- By: Jordan Daniel Mat

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 30:1 (Spring 2009)
Article: The Four Pillars: The Fourfold Gospel Before The Time Of Irenaeus
Author: Jordan Daniel Mat

The Four Pillars: The Fourfold Gospel Before The Time Of Irenaeus

Jordan Daniel Mat

Jordan Daniel May is a Th.M. Student at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey.

This essay focuses on Irenaeus’s conception of the Fourfold Gospel Canon (FGC). In the course of this essay, I will first discuss briefly the context in which Irenaeus articulated the FGC, noting the theological debate in which he was engaged. Second, by examining Irenaeus’s work and other patristic writings, I will present the evidence for a FGC prior to the time of Irenaeus. My conclusion, stated in sum, is that Irenaeus did not establish or “fix” the FGC—as many scholars contend—but rather that he inherited it.1

I. Irenaeus: In A Context Of Crisis

“The preaching of the church,” declares Bishop Irenaeus,

the prophets proclaimed, but Christ brought to perfection, and the apostles have handed down, from whom the church, receiving these truths, and throughout all the world alone preserving them in their integrity, has transmitted them to her [children]. (Haer. 5.pref.; cf. Epid. 98)2

Irenaeus, writing from Lugdunum, Gaul (modern-day Lyons, France), in the late second century (ca. 180 c.e.) suggests that the truth preached within the church of his day is the exact same truth as that preached by the original apostles.3 As a disciple of Bishop

Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John, Irenaeus is in a unique position to make such a claim (cf. Haer. 3.3.4). Following the death of the apostles and eyewitnesses of the Christ event, however, gnostic heresy appears within the infant church.4 According to Irenaeus, the gnostics harvest much of their doctrine from pagan sources and fail to preach the truth—the very truth handed down by the apostles. Instead, the gnostics distort the Scripture and assert their own authority over against apostolic tradition.5 In combating the gnostic speculations, Irenaeus produces his magnum opus Against Heresies (full title: On the Detection and Refutation of the Knowledge Falsely So-Called).6 Divided into five books, the work challenges the very core of Gnosticism: the first book is a broad presentation of gnostic teaching; the second is a refutation of Gnosticism based on r...

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