Irenaeus's Defense of the Old Testament as Part of the Canon of Scripture
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SubjectMarcion, of Sinope, active 2nd century
Irenaeus, Saint, Bishop of Lyon
Bible--Criticism, interpretation, etc.
During the second century, emerging Christianity had to wrestle with its understanding of the Jewishness of both Jesus of Nazareth and the Old Testament Scriptures. Two voices emerged within the Church as it wrestled with this issue: Marcion of Sinope, and Irenaeus of Lyons. Marcion rejected the Church’s use of the Old Testament and propagated a theology which radically reinterpreted both the Old Testament and the New Testament as being existentially opposed to one another as his justification for urging the Church to abandon all use of the Old Testament. By contrast, Irenaeus of Lyons, a student of the Apostle John’s disciple Polycarp, defended the emerging Catholic Church’s use of the Old Testament and its placement within the Christian Canon itself. This thesis examines Irenaeus’s defense of the Old Testament as part of the New Testament canon through the lens of his rebuttal of Marcion’s teachings. First, an examination of Marcion of Sinope’s life and his teachings that became Marcionite Christianity will inform the reader concerning what he proposed as the basis of Christian faith in opposition to the emerging Catholic Church. Second, this thesis will examine the life of Irenaeus of Lyons. Irenaeus’s biographical temporal, geographical, and relational contexts are examined to explain why he was the prime authority to defend Catholic Christianity at large against Marcion’s heresy. It will then proceed to look at his surviving writings, and the nature of Irenaeus’s interpretive thought process which informed his understanding of Scripture. Third, this thesis examines Irenaeus’s defense of the Old Testament itself through his appeal to eyewitness testimony dating from Jesus of Nazareth himself, through the apostles, then his apostolic mentor, and finally, as preserved himself in his references back to this authority. Additionally, his defense is examined in light of its refutation of Marcionite Christianity’s key accusations against the Old Testament that are used to justify their rejection of the Old Testament. Finally, this thesis concludes with a demonstration of why Irenaeus’s Old Testament defense is still vital in the present day by assessing examples from both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.