Thursday, September 21, 2023

What should we say about Irenaeus' influence on gospel authorship attribution?

I discussed the evidence for the traditional gospel authorship attributions in a post last week. One of the most significant sources who's brought up in discussions of the topic is Irenaeus. It's often suggested that he originated the traditional authorship attributions, that he was the primary source who popularized those attributions, or something else along those lines. What I want to do here is recommend a concise way of addressing that sort of claim.

I've written a lot in the past about Irenaeus' trustworthiness: his character, the general accuracy of his claims, where he lived, his relationships with individuals like Polycarp, etc. For example, see here, here, and here. Those issues are relevant to his credibility on the authorship of the gospels, but I want to focus on one thing that can concisely and easily make the point. Irenaeus himself refers to earlier sources who corroborated his authorship attributions. See his citation of Ptolemy in section 1:8:5 of Against Heresies and his citation of a Roman source in section 3:1:1. (For the evidence that he's citing a Roman source, see here.) Notice, too, that the sources are so diverse. Ptolemy was a heretic, and though Irenaeus spent some time in Rome, he primarily lived elsewhere. So, we already see such a variety of sources (in terms of theology, location, etc.) agreeing on these authorship attributions by the time Irenaeus wrote. We have evidence to that effect outside of Irenaeus as well, but it's evident even within this one document from Irenaeus himself, before we even get to those other sources.

1 comment:

  1. Quite right! I would also note, as another succinct point: Irenaeus had respect for these documents *because* he thought he had evidence that they were apostolic in origin. The "anonymity" picture is backwards, for it implies that Irenaeus had an unexplained emotion of attachment to these documents and therefore was motivated to consciously invent authors, for whom he had little or no evidence, to bolster their authority.