Irenaeus, Eve, Mary and Childbearing

I’m reading through Irenaeus’ $amz(0809102641 Proof of the Apostolic Preaching) (translated by Joseph Smith) in the evenings before going to bed. It’s a pretty quick read and will familiarize you with Irenaeus before digging into his $amz(0809104547 Against Heresies) (translated by Dominic J.Unger, and my next evening reading target).


First, to set the scene, let me quote 1Ti 2.13-15:



13 For Adam was created first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not misled, but the woman, being deceived, has become a transgressor. 15 But she will be saved through childbearing, if they remain in faith and love and holiness with good judgment. (my own translation)


Ok, now, here’s Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, §33:



33. And just as it was through a virgin who disobeyed that man was stricken and fell and died, so too it was through the Virgin, who obeyed the word of God, that man resuscitated by life received life. For the Lord came to seek back the lost sheep, and it was man who was lost; and therefore He did not become some other formation, but He likewise, of her that was descended from Adam, preserved the likeness of formation: for Adam had necessarily to be restored in Christ, that mortality be absorbed in immortality, and Eve in Mary, that a virgin, become the advocate of a virgin, should undo and destroy virginal disobedience by virginal obedience. (Smith, 69. emphasis added)


Now I’m not sure what to think of this passage from Irenaeus; I certainly think Christ died once for all, male and female alike. So I don’t know quite what to think about Eve being “restored” in Mary. But this passage links Eve and Mary in a sense of restoration. More importantly, because of Mary’s obedience, man received life. Eve disobeyed, her disobedience was made right again with Christ’s birth to a virgin mother and the resultant salvation through Christ. At least, on the surface, that’s what I sense Irenaeus to be saying.


Irenaeus is early, likely the generation after the Apostolic Fathers. Polycarp, whom Irenaeus heard teach and was likely a pupil of, was martyred in 155 or 156. Irenaeus became Bishop of Lyons in 177 or 178 and, according to Smith, likely died in the early third century (Smith 6). Irenaeus also likely knew of at least First Timothy; consider the start of his preface to Against Heresies:



Certain people are discarding the Truth and introducing deceitful myths and endless geneaologies, which, as the Apostle says, promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith. (Unger, 21)


That’s the very first sentence of the preface, explicitly quoting $esv(1Ti 1.4) and attributing it to Paul (the “Apostle”). So Irenaeus is mid/late 2nd century, he knew of First Timothy (as did Polycarp, who in Poly. Phil. 4.1 may have quoted $esv(1Ti 6.10)) and he had this view of Eve being restored in Mary.


Realizing all of this —  how does Irenaeus in Proof of the Apostolic Preaching square with 1Ti 2.13-15? Most commentaries these days discount the ‘childbearing’ in v. 15 as having anything to do with the arrival of Christ through being born to Mary. But isn’t that pretty much what Irenaeus is saying here?


Postscript: Please note, this is all just me “thinking out loud” (i.e. blogging). I read the passage in Irenaeus last night and it’s been simmering on the back burners of my brain since. I checked Marshall’s ICC volume, Knight’s NIGTC volume, and Dibelius & Conzelmann in Hermeneia. No mention of this reference, though D&C refer to Irenaeus Adv. Haer. 1.24.2 (which attributes marriage and childbirth to Satan). I’d check Towner’s NICNT and Witherington, but I’ve loaned the volumes to a friend and don’t have them handy. I haven’t checked elsewhere to see if this passage of Irenaeus has ever been associated with these verses.

Comments

  1. Lloyd Pietersen says:

    Hi Rick

    I am not convinced that Irenaeus had 1 Tim 2:13-15 in mind in Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. He certainly isn’t just emphasising Christ’s death either as this passage is one of many in which he formulates his doctrine of recapitulation which, as the Orthodox church rightly insists, focuses on incarnation rather than atonement.

    Towner does not refer to this passage from Irenaeus in his discussion of 1 Tim 2:13-15, but Quinn and Wacker do (p. 232) although they conclude that this interpretation (1Tim 2:15 referring to the birth of Christ) is "improbable". I cannot find a reference to the passage in Luke Johnson’s Anchor Bible Commentary.

  2. Rick says:

    Hi Lloyd.

    I’m not really convinced either. The similarity of the two passages struck me, though, so I had to mention something. Thanks for checking a few commentaries out for me.

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