Now, having reviewed the context of Irenaeus’ teaching about the age of Jesus at his death, we turn to the calm, kind, rational commentary offered by Mark Bonocore on the same issue, found here. Let’s look at his comments. After I had noted very briefly what I explained more fully above, Bonocore writes,
Well, you’re proving that you are not infallible more and more, Mr. White. Not only do you read the Scriptures incorrectly because you wrench them out of context, you also do the same with the Fathers. Why didn’t you present ALL of what St. Irenaeus has to say? Then you might understand his point IN CONTEXT. 😉
First of all, Irenaeus’ point is that Jesus’ humanity identifies with human beings of every age:
“For He came to save all through means of Himself–all, I say, who through Him are born again to God –infants, and children, and boys, and ***youths***, and ***old men***. He therefore passed through ***every age***, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord. ****So likewise He was an old man for old men****, that He might be a perfect Master for all, not merely as respects the setting forth of the truth, but also as regards age, sanctifying at the same time ***the aged*** also, and becoming an example to them likewise.”
There is no disagreement up to this point. However, Bonocore then says:
So, is Irenaeus saying that Jesus became an “old man”???? 🙂 Nope. But, first he continues…
“They, however, that they may establish their false opinion regarding that which is written, ‘to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,’ maintain that He preached for one year only, and then suffered in the twelfth month. [In speaking thus], they are forgetful to their own disadvantage, destroying His whole work, and ****robbing Him of that age which is both more necessary and more honourable**** …. “Now Jesus was, as it were, beginning to be ****thirty years old****, when He came to receive baptism; and, [according to these men,] He preached only one year reckoning from His baptism. On completing His ***thirtieth year*** He suffered, being in fact still a ***young man***, and who had by no means attained to ***advanced age***.”
So far, Irenaeus’ point is that some say that Jesus died at age 30 (as a “young man,” as opposed to an “elder”), that He was NO OLDER than 30. And, he continues…
If what Bonocore means here is that this was the assertion of the gnostics that Irenaeus is responding to, yes, that’s true.
“Now, that the ***first stage of early life*** embraces ***thirty years*** (i.e. age 1 to age 30), and that this extends onwards to the ***fortieth year*** (31-40), every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth (i.e. 40 plus) year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, ***even as the Gospel*** and all the elders ***testify*** …”
Ah! 🙂 Now what is Irenaeus’ point???? It’s that Jesus was OLDER than 30 when He died (i.e. 33 years old, to be precise –“EVEN AS THE GOSPEL …TESTIFIES” …that is, the Gospel of John ;-). His point is that Jesus lived past the first stage of life, and was in the stage of life between 31 and 50, which extends into “old age” (as they saw it in Roman times). In this, Jesus was qualified to be a teacher; since a Jewish rabbi had to be a “elder” in order to be a true teacher.
Think about it. Irenaeus says that the Gospel TESTIFIES to this. Does the Gospel ever say that Jesus was 40 or 50??? Of course not! Rather, John’s Gospel presents Jesus as thirty years old at the time of His Baptism, and then gives a 3-year narrative. And THAT is Irenaeus’ point.
Of course, that’s not his point at all. Bonocore is quite correct: there is no basis, even in John 8, for Irenaeus’ position, but that does not change the reality of Irenaeus’ assertion. Nowhere does Irenaeus claim Jesus was thirty-three years of age. What others have seen, and Bonocore seems to be missing, is the progression of Irenaeus’ thought: “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….” Note Irenaeus limits the “old age” category to 40-50, and Irenaeus specifically asserts that “our Lord possessed” this…this what? “Old age.” Which is why, when he looks at John 8, he concludes that Jesus “did not then wont [i.e., lack] much of being fifty years old,” a phrase that Bonocore ignores. So he compounds his error:
And, Irenaeus continues,
“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, ‘Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?’ 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, ‘Thou art not yet forty years old.’ “
🙂 Notice how Irenaeus is counting in 10’s here. 🙂 Jesus is 33, so the Jews do not use “forty,” but “fifty.” Why? Because the Jews would only say “forty” if Jesus was 30-years-old or younger. Yet, he had entered into the next stage of life — the period between 31 and 50, as opposed to the period between 13 and 30.
Notice that while the quotation contains the refutation of his position in the words “Now, such language is fittingly applied to one who has already passed the age of forty, without having as yet reached his fiftieth year,” Bonocore ignores this, just as he ignores the fact that in the same section we read, “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.” No, according to Bonocore, they were off by seventeen years! Of course, that’s not Irenaeus’ point, and only by trying to force him to speak in accordance with his wishes does Bonocore miss the meaning so completely.
And Irenaeus then sums up his point, saying:
“He did not therefore preach ***only for one year, nor did He suffer in the twelfth month of the year.*** For the period included between the ***thirtieth and the fiftieth year*** can never be regarded as one year ….”
So, Irenaeus’ point is that Jesus was between 30 and 50. That is all he is saying. He is showing that Jesus had reached the age of a Teacher: 33 yrs-old, according to the Gospel of John.
So, you misinterpret Irenaeus, Mr. White, BECAUSE you did not read his statement IN CONTEXT, and because you did not read it with the cultural sensibilities of a 2nd century Greco-Roman Christian, but with your own, narrow, modernist sensibilities. For a scholar, that is DISGRACEFUL! 🙂
Well, as we have demonstrated, it is Mr. Bonocore who has completely missed the point, but, I guess, given that he is not a scholar, he is to be excused. In any case, all of the exclamation points and smiley faces aside, we see here that Mr. Bonocore is not careful with his use of sources. In our next installment we will examine Bonocore’s “refutation” of me on the subject of Isaiah 22:20-22, as it was cited in the blog comments regarding Dave Armstrong.