Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 4c) – Irenaeus


I have confronted multiple conditionalists about why Irenaeus didn’t believe in conditionalist/annihilationist doctrine, but they continue to spread this lie even after being corrected. And conditionalists wonder why I say some of their content is deceptive. What’s even more discouraging, is that Chris Date, even after an online debate with Jerry Shepherd, continues to spread this. I am grateful, though, to have come across a gem a few months ago, and have been meaning to share it.

I never read this online debate before writing my first two Irenaeus articles, but yet I was still able to come to some the same conclusions. Jerry Shepherd did what I would encourage many of you to do, and that is simply read the rest of Irenaeus’ work. But just like anything dealing with annihilationist doctrine, proper literary linguistics and context will overturn much of the rhetoric that come from this camp.

In the first installment of this debate, Chris Date makes his usual claims about why conditionalism is true. And predictably so, in an attempt to make his position seem more legitimate, he throws in Irenaues’ name in typical fashion. I guess if you repeat a lie long enough and loud enough, people will believe it. And they do! But here is Jerry Shepherd’s response to this claim:

Before getting to Chris’s four main points, it is necessary for me to address some problems with his introductory comments. The citations from Ignatius and Irenaeus do not really support Chris’s point. Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Magnesians 10,[1] does not say that “we should cease to be.” This is an older and misleading translation of ouketi esmen, more literally “we are no longer,” and recognized by most translators to be better rendered idiomatically as something like “we are undone,” or “we are lost.”[2] This statement is not really addressing the question of existence; it is nothing more than a restatement of Ps 130:3.

Irenaeus (my hero!), in the same chapter which Chris cites, makes use of the Abraham/rich man/Lazarus passage in Luke 16 to argue for the continued existence of souls in eternity. And there are other passages in Against Heresies in which Irenaeus argues for the immortality (in terms of continued existence) of the soul; i.e., God has made all souls immortal.[3] Irenaeus can talk about conferred immortality on believers; yet he can also talk about an immortality which is the property of the soul as created. It is more likely, then, that in the cited passage, Irenaeus is referring here to immortality as life in the presence of God, and that he is contrasting that to what might be referred to as the merely sensate existence of souls in eternal punishment, a teaching which he received from his instructor, Justin Martyr.[4] So, as opposed to Chris’s statement that this conditionalist view was “eclipsed by the traditional view,” I would argue that this view was never really there to be eclipsed. Conditionalist attempts to turn the early church fathers into conditionalists have not proven to be convincing. (underlines and bolded words are mine for emphasis)

Indeed this last statement should be a sunrise upon the heart upon all those that keep hearing this dead drum being played over and over again. I encourage you to read Jerry’s cited references* as well as read part 4a and 4b of this series if you have not done so. Because while it is easy to make Irenaeus say what he doesn’t mean, it is not so easy when we read the whole of his works and find the opposite is true.

Furthermore, Jerry Shepherd notices several things about Chris’/conditionalist’s arguments that I have stated time and time again. He mentions that 1) Irenaeus does not believe in annihilationism despite their claims and out of context quotes (that’s another article coming soon). 2) He notices their hyper-literal and out of context interpretations for words like death and destruction. 3) Their incessant proof texting while neglecting word usage within their semantic ranges, context, and discourse. 4) And their unnecessary use of the atonement of Christ to wrongly approve their claims about annihilation. I must further comment on this last point.

Christ died for sin. But as even Jerry said, this is a “non-sequitur.” In my layman’s terms, and as I have personally said to Chris, “so what?” Christ dying doesn’t make annihilation is more valid. As I have mentioned before in previous articles, it is making a distinction without making a difference. Something that conditionalists, especially Chris Date, are good at. I’m just glad I’m not alone in noticing these points. What I am disappointed about is how there are many, even within gospel-centered circles, believing that this position should be allowed to be taught and maintained as a preachable position within the local church. Even scarier, within reformed/calvanistic circles. God helps us.

-Until we go home

*Against Heresies Book 5, Ch. 4, para 1. ; 5.7.1; 5.13.3.

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