WHEN Was Jesus Crucified?
Part 6d - Link
Part 6e – Irenaeus.
Now Irenaeus (130 – 202 CE) wrote a number of works, including references to his alleged crucifixion in Against Heresies (Latin: Adversus haereses) and Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching. With the two works, one learns that Irenaeus was convinced Jesus was crucified in 42 CE at the earliest, during Emperor Claudius’ reign.
First, his Against Heresies II.22. In paragraph 1, Irenaeus completely trashes the Synoptic timeline of Jesus’ career, particularly as outlined in gLuke 3:23 & 4:19:
There are not, therefore, thirty Æons, nor did the Saviour come to be baptized when He was thirty years old…. Moreover, they affirm that He suffered in the twelfth month, so that He continued to preach for one year after His baptism; and they endeavour to establish this point out of the prophet (for it is written, “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of retribution” [Isaiah 61:2]), being truly blind,… not understanding that which is called by Isaiah the acceptable year of the Lord, nor the day of retribution. For the prophet neither speaks concerning a day which includes the space of twelve hours, nor of a year the length of which is twelve months. 1The last may be true, but there is no indication that Luke understands this as allegorical. In fact, NT scholars link it to the Jewish year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:10. Irenaeus does, though, in order to refer to the Church Age, “the whole time of faith during which men hear and believe the preaching of the Gospel, and those become acceptable to God who unite themselves to Him.” 1
Now that we have established a baseline, that Irenaeus does not accept the Synoptic timeline, we shall go on to figure out when he thought Jesus was crucifed.
In the beginning of paragraph 3, he follows the common practice of harmonizing the gospels, stating that “after His baptism, the Lord went up, at the time of the Passover [sic], to Jerusalem, in accordance with what was the practice of the Jews from every land, and every year, that they should assemble at this period in Jerusalem, and there celebrate the Passover. [sic]” 3 The Passovers he cites are the three in gJohn: the first right after Jesus’ water into wine demonstraion at Cana (2:13), the second according to Irenaeus is where Jesus cures the man disabled for 38 years at the Pool of Aesculapius in Jerusalem (5:1-15), and just before he feeds a vast crowd with five loaves of bread at Lake Galilee (6:4), the third and last six days after he raises Lazarus from the dead in Bethany (11:54, 12:1) where he gets questioned by the Jewish Sanhedrin, tried, convicted and sentenced by Pilate and whacked by the Romans. Well so far, so good: irenaeus has Jesus now observing three Passovers after his baptism. That means he should be about 32 or 33, correct?
Not on your life!
For in the beginning of paragraph four, Irenaeus claims Jesus, after his baptism, came to Jerusalem “possessing the full age of a Master… so that he might properly be acknowledged by all as a Master.” 4 He goes on to say that Jesus fulfilled every age of humanity: infants, children, youths, old men [and women], passing “through every age,” and thus “sanctifying” each stage a a person’s life. 5
Now in the fifth paragraph, we get to the key of Irenaeus’ reasoning: he admits to Jesus beginning to being about thirty years of age when he was dunked in the River Jordan by John the Baptist:
For when He came to be baptized, He had not yet completed His thirtieth year, but was beginning to be about thirty years of age (for thus Luke, who has mentioned His years, has expressed it: “Now Jesus was, as it were, beginning to be thirty years old,” [Luke 3:23] when He came to receive baptism) 6But he goes on that Jesus lived far longer than just one year or even three-and-a-half years! Nota bene:
Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher 7Irenaeus is clearly arguing that Jesus lived to an advanced age, past the age of 50, much like Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BCE) who was stabbed in the porch of Pompey’s Theatre and crucified in imagine two or five 8 days later. And what evidence does he have for this, since the extant Canonical Gospels so clearly stare he had a one-year ministry (Synoptics) or a two-to-three year ministry (gJohn)? Well he tells you:
…even as the Gospel and all the elders testify; those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord, [affirming] that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan. Some of them, moreover, saw not only John, but the other apostles also, and heard the very same account from them, and bear testimony as to the [validity of] the statement. 9Here is is stating he got the information from the elders of the churches in southwest Asia Minor, and the elders got the information from the Apostles, including John, who, according to Irenaeus, stayed with them in Asia Minor until the times of Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 CE).
And from the sixth paragraph we find that it is John’s Gospel he is referring to when he says the Gospel testifies to the fact that he attained old age and the status of a teacher:
But, besides this, those very Jews who then disputed with the Lord Jesus Christ have most clearly indicated the same thing. For when the Lord said to them, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad,” they answered Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” [John 8:56-57] 10He then argues that if he was just over the age of thirty, the fellow Jews of Jesus who were questioning him would certainly not say, “You are not yet fifty years old,” but rather “You are not yet forty years old.” But the whole point of the Jews’ questioning him was that they knew just from observation that Jesus was much younger than Abraham, and would certainly not have been old enough to have seen Abraham’s day. Which, for that purpose, fifty would have been just as much a suitable number as forty; who cares if the person of the story in question.was just over thirty or just under fifty, or even a short time after? But I digress. It certainly mattered to Irenaeus, who makes a very big issue out of it. 11
Now we do not have the information in Against Heresies as to what year Jesus was allegedly crucified in, for that we have to look in his Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching. Here, he cheerfully states that he was executed during the procuratorship / prefecture of Pontius Pilate, but during the Government of Claudius Caesar (24 January 41 – 13 October 54)! And this is what Irenaeus wrote: “For Herod the king of the Jews and Pontius Pilate, the governor of Claudius Caesar, came together and condemned Him to be crucified.” (emphasis mine) 12
So the crucifixion would have occurred sometime around 42 CE or later. 13 Apparently Irenaeus is privy to a tradition that is not in any of the Canonical Gospels. Not only is the date far removed from Eusebius and Tertullian’s guesses and Pontius Pilate’s prefecture of 26-36 CE, but his source for the trial of Jesus apparently has Herod as a presiding official alongside Pilate, as in the Gospel of Peter. And Irenaeus continues the above quoted sentence with the following:
For Herod feared, as though He were to be an earthly king, lest he should be expelled by Him from the kingdom. But Pilate was constrained by Herod and the Jews that were with him against his will to deliver Him to death: (for they threatened him) if he should not rather do this than act contrary to Cæsar, by letting go a man who was called a king. 14
Irenaeus sets the crucifixion of Jesus around 42 CE or later, but no later that 54 CE. This is at variance from Eusebius and Tertullian’s computed dates, which is indicative of confusion among the Apostolic and Ante-Nicene Church Fathers as to the actual date of the crucifixion.
1. Against Heresies II.22.1 (New Advent.org)
2. Ibid., pgh. 2.
3. Ibid., beginning of pgh. 3.
4. Ibid., beginning of pgh. 4.
6. Ibid, paragraph 5.
8. Depending on whether you trust the ancient historians, who state the funeral of Julius Caesar was on March 17, or the bulk of modern scholarship, which says it was on March 20.
9. Against Heresies II.22.1, pgh. 5.
10. Ibid., beginning pgh. 6
11. Ibid., read the rest of pgh. 6. Here is the key quote: “Now, such language is fittingly applied to one who has already passed the age of forty, without having as yet reached his fiftieth year, yet is not far from this latter period. But to one who is only thirty years old it would unquestionably be said, “You are not yet forty years old.” For those who wished to convict Him of falsehood would certainly not extend the number of His years far beyond the age which they saw He had attained; but they mentioned a period near His real age, whether they had truly ascertained this out of the entry in the public register, or simply made a conjecture from what they observed that He was above forty years old, and that He certainly was not one of only thirty years of age. For it is altogether unreasonable to suppose that they were mistaken by twenty years, when they wished to prove Him younger than the times of Abraham. For what they saw, that they also expressed; and He whom they beheld was not a mere phantasm, but an actual being of flesh and blood. He did not then want much of being fifty years old; and, in accordance with that fact, they said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” (emphasis mine)
12. Irenaeus, Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching 74, immediately after quoting Acts 4:25ff. Link: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/irenaeus/demonstr.preaching_the_demonstration_of_the_apostolic_preaching.html.
13. Assuming Jesus’ birth year of 4 BCE and a lifespan of at least 45 years, Jesus would have been crucified no earlier than 42 CE. Cf. Wikipedia, Irenaeus, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus. This article cites in its n. , Robert M Price. "Jesus at the Vanishing Point," in James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy (eds.) The Historical Jesus: Five Views. InterVarsity, 2009, p. 80-81. Ditto Wikipedia, On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Detection_and_Overthrow_of_the_So-Called_Gnosis#Main_arguments, n. . Also, the ccel.org source linked in n. 12 indicates that Claudius did not become Emperor until 42 CE.
14. Same as n. 12 above.