Quite some time ago we corrected the constant, errant, repeated misuse of Irenaeus by LDS apologists, and in particular, the usage by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks in one of the few specifically counter-evangelical apologetic books out there, Offenders for a Word. We had posted this information quite some time ago:
In my book Is the Mormon My Brother I noted the tremendous misrepresentation of the early Church Father Irenaeus found in the work of Stephen Robinson (Are Mormons Christians? Bookcraft, 1991, pp. 60-65) in the pages of Offenders for a Word, and in the new FARMS publication edited by Robert Millet and Noel Reynolds, Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues (p. 26, though this may just be part of Robinson’s contribution). The specific citation provided by Peterson and Ricks is as follows:
And in a chapter on “Why Man Is Not Made Perfect from the Beginning,” Irenaeus (d. A.D. 180) wrote, “For we cast blame upon Him, because we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods.”
Foonote 242 is attached, giving the reference, “Irenaeus, Against the Heretics IV, 38, 4. English translation in Roberts and Donaldson (1981): 1:522; cf. Barlow (1983): 16.” Stephen Robinson provides a much longer citation of the same passage, though he, likewise, ignores the context that utterly removes this passage from the LDS arsenal. Again the mere quotation of the passage in context removes all doubt:
For we cast blame upon Him, because we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods; although God has adopted this course out of his pure benevolence, that no one may impute to Him invidiousness or grudgingness. He declares, “I have said, Ye are gods, and ye are all sons of the Highest.” But since we could not sustain the power of divinity, He adds, “But ye shall die like men,” setting forth both truths — the kindness of His free gift, and our weakness, and also that we were possessed of power over ourselves. For after His great kindness He graciously conferred good [upon us], and made men like to Himself, [that is] in their own power; while at the same time by His prescience He knew the infirmity of human beings, and the consequences which would flow from it; but through [His] love and [His] power, He shall overcome the substance of created nature. For it was necessary, at first, that nature should be exhibited; then, after that, that what was mortal should be conquered and swallowed up by immortality, and the corruptible by incorruptibility, and that man should be made after the image and likeness of God, having received the knowledge of good and evil.
By selective citation, even Robinson removes from this section those statements that would be detrimental to the purpose of the citation in defense of the LDS position. Yet the rest of the passage, in context, is even more devastating:
If, however, any one say, “What then? Could not God have exhibited man as perfect from beginning?” let him know that, inasmuch as God is indeed always the same and unbegotten as respects Himself, all things are possible to Him. But created things must be inferior to Him who created them, from the very fact of their later origin; for it was not possible for things recently created to have been uncreated. But inasmuch as they are not uncreated, for this very reason do they come short of the perfect.
The very distinction between the uncreated Creator and the created being man is what is denied in Mormon theology: hence, to take a passage based upon that distinction and attempt to parallel it with anything LDS is tremendously unfair and inaccurate. Irenaeus continues with his theme of man as created, God as uncreated:
There was nothing, therefore, impossible to and deficient in God, [implied in the fact] that man was not an uncreated being; but this merely applied to him who was lately created, [namely] man.
The fundamental, ontological difference between God, the uncreated One, and man, the created creature, is found on the very surface of Irenaeus’ statements. Yet to note this would make the citation of Irenaeus worthless. Even how Irenaeus defined “deification” is of little use to the Mormon cause:
For the Uncreated is perfect, that is, God. Now it was necessary that man should in the first instance be created; and having been created, should receive growth; and having received growth, should be strengthened; and having been strengthened, should abound; and having abounded, should recover [from the disease of sin]; and having recovered, should be glorified; and being glorified, should see his Lord. For God is He who is yet to be seen, and the beholding of God is productive of immortality, but immortality renders one nigh unto God.
But, like we saw above with Tertullian, a simple reading of the passage from its start should have been enough to remove it from consideration by these leading LDS scholars. Note his words:
Irrational, therefore, in every respect, are they who await not the time of increase, but ascribe to God the infirmity of their nature. Such persons know neither God nor themselves, being insatiable and ungrateful, unwilling to be at the outset what they have also been created—men subject to passions; but go beyond the law of the human race, and before that they become men, they wish to be even now like God their Creator, and they who are more destitute of reason than dumb animals [insist] that there is no distinction between the uncreated God and man, a creature of today.
A mere one sentence separates this incredibly accurate description of the LDS doctrine of God and the sentence first cited by Peterson and Ricks! Any person desirous of honestly representing the beliefs of the early Fathers could not possibly ignore the context of the passages cited, yet, this is exactly what we find in Peterson and Ricks, and in the earlier work by Robinson. Again we have to ask how this kind of a-contextual citation can end up in print, and, in fact, be reprinted by FARMS seven years later, without any correction or emendation, despite it having been pointed out in Is the Mormon My Brother? Scholarship means honestly dealing with historical facts, and quoting items fairly, and in context. How can these scholars present this kind of material?
The reason I bring up this issue again is that I was scanning through current articles on LDS apologetics websites, and I once again noted the fact that one LDS scholars make a statement, their words end up being cited and re-cited, creating an aura of scholarly substance, but one that is empty of actual meaning. In an article by John A Tvedtnes it is asserted, “Since Christ has a resurrected body, it would be wrong to say that the Godhead is spirit only. Moreover, since the scriptures teach–and the early Church fathers maintained–that mortals can be deified, it stands to reason that God could well have a body.” Now, the fact that God became a man in Christ Jesus does not logically say anything about the Father being corporeal in nature (the Incarnation is unique), but that issue aside, the footnote reference reads, “Among the Christian Fathers of the second through fourth centuries A.D. who cited biblical evidence that humans are destined to become Gods are Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria, Novation, Maximus the Confessor, Athanasius of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine of Hippo, and the Persian Aphrahat of Syria.” None of these men in any fashion believed in a theology that is supportive of LDS beliefs, as we have documented over and over again. Yet, without even attempting to deal with the responses that have been offered, once again we see Irenaeus’ name listed.
Now what struck me as rather odd was another article I ran across, this time by Daniel C. Peterson. Herein we find Dr. Peterson complaining about certain non-Mormons misrepresenting LDS beliefs (specifically in this case, he is going after Ed Decker and Hank Hanegraaff). At one point he writes, “It certainly doesn’t matter that I (rather redundantly) refuted Mr. Decker’s claim on this subject in 1995. He is repeating it yet again, in 1997.” Well, entire sections of Offenders for a Word have been refuted, years ago, but we continue to wait for Dr. Peterson’s response or retraction. What is good for the goose is good for gander, is it not?