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Irenaeus on the Kingdom of God


The following lengthy excerpt is from Irenaeus’ book Against Heresies in which he identifies, explains, and refutes the various unorthodox ideas of his age in an effort to warn his fellow Christians of their danger. Irenaeus was the overseer of a church in Lyons, Gaul (modern-day France), in the second century. He wrote his magnum opus in a.d. 180 to fight against the Gnostics and their descendants, all of whom denied the earth as the permanent home of the chosen people. In what follows Irenaeus marshals a panoply of arguments to defend the notion that “the meek will inherit the earth” as Jesus and the prophets of old had also taught.

Book 5 | Chapter 32 of Against Heresies by Irenaeus

1. Inasmuch, therefore, as the opinions of certain [orthodox persons] are derived from heretical discourses, they are both ignorant of God’s dispensations, and of the mystery of the resurrection of the just, and of the [earthly] kingdom which is the commencement of incorruption, by means of which kingdom those who shall be worthy are accustomed gradually to partake of the divine nature; and it is necessary to tell them respecting those things, that it behoves the righteous first to receive the promise of the inheritance which God promised to the fathers, and to reign in it, when they rise again to behold God in this creation which is renovated, and that the judgment should take place afterwards. For it is just that in that very creation in which they toiled or were afflicted, being proved in every way by suffering, they should receive the reward of their suffering; and that in the creation in which they were slain because of their love to God, in that they should be revived again; and that in the creation in which they endured servitude, in that they should reign. For God is rich in all things, and all things are His. It is fitting, therefore, that the creation itself, being restored to its primeval condition, should without restraint be under the dominion of the righteous; and the apostle has made this plain in the Epistle to the Romans, when he thus speaks: “For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature has been subjected to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope; since the creature itself shall also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.”

2. Thus, then, the promise of God, which He gave to Abraham, remains stedfast. For thus He said: “Lift up thine eyes, and look from this place where now thou art, towards the north and south, and east and west. For all the earth which thou seest, I will give to thee and to thy seed, even for ever.” And again He says, “Arise, and go through the length and breadth of the land, since I will give it unto thee;” and [yet] he did not receive an inheritance in it, not even a footstep, but was always a stranger and a pilgrim therein. And upon the death of Sarah his wife, when the Hittites were willing to bestow upon him a place where he might bury her, he declined it as a gift, but bought the burying-place (giving for it four hundred talents of silver) from Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite. Thus did he await patiently the promise of God, and was unwilling to appear to receive from men, what God had promised to give him, when He said again to him as follows: “I will give this land to thy seed, from the river of Egypt even unto the great river Euphrates.” If, then, God promised him the inheritance of the land, yet he did not receive it during all the time of his sojourn there, it must be, that together with his seed, that is, those who fear God and believe in Him, he shall receive it at the resurrection of the just. For his seed is the Church, which receives the adoption to God through the Lord, as John the Baptist said: “For God is able from the stones to raise up children to Abraham.” Thus also the apostle says in the Epistle to the Galatians: “But ye, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of the promise.” And again, in the same Epistle, he plainly declares that they who have believed in Christ do receive Christ, the promise to Abraham thus saying, “The promises were spoken to Abraham, and to his seed. Now He does not say, And of seeds, as if [He spake] of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” And again, confirming his former words, he says, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore, that they which are of faith are the children of Abraham. But the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, declared to Abraham beforehand, That in thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which are of faith shall be blessed with faithful Abraham.” Thus, then, they who are of faith shall be blessed with faithful Abraham, and these are the children of Abraham. Now God made promise of the earth to Abraham and his seed; yet neither Abraham nor his seed, that is, those who are justified by faith, do now receive any inheritance in it; but they shall receive it at the resurrection of the just. For God is true and faithful; and on this account He said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

taken from Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson edition, available online at ccel.org (scroll down to the bottom).

8 Responses to “Irenaeus on the Kingdom of God”

  1. on 07 Nov 2012 at 1:19 pmWolfgang


    what would you say about a church father who wrote “against heresies” and defending “trinity/binity doctrine” against those “cults of his day” who did not believe in the trinity?

    In other words, could it be that those who called “heretics” are the ones who hold the truth whereas the “defenders of the truth” are in reality defending false doctrine and unbiblical religion?

  2. on 07 Nov 2012 at 3:08 pmJas

    I agree that Irenaeus was a heretic on his own especially with his belief that Jesus was more than a human. But basically he only used biblical verses that were clear that the land promise was literal than gave his opinion on who the promise was to. Irenaeus in this writing wasnt really writing against heresies but was upholding the heresy of replacement theology developed by Justin which is where his heresy about Jesus actually began. Justin was the FATHER of all heresies that developed the next few centuries that became known as orthodox christianity. He probably was the author of the gospel of John, he probably was the source or redactor of Matthew and Luke, was probably the one who separated Luke from Acts giving Luke a shortened version of the ascension and who knows what else.
    But even after all that there is probably profit in reading both of them.

  3. on 08 Nov 2012 at 1:50 pmSarah


    I don’t think we can make sweeping pronouncements about teachings of the ante-Nicene fathers. Some of their views align well with scripture, such as the one Sean posted here. But of course others don’t. Careful study helps identify where and how pagan philosophy affected their ideas. I would approach the popular figures of modern Christianity no differently.

  4. on 08 Nov 2012 at 3:26 pmtimothy

    To ALL,

    The movie *AGORA* is only available on NETFLIX to rent DVD.

    Here is the trailer:


    AGORA is a *must watch* for those studying the early Christian Church history.


  5. on 08 Nov 2012 at 3:37 pmJas

    Romans 9-11 is the where the replacement theology developed but understanding the history of the nations of Israel will show you that these verses are not speaking of non-Israelites but are speaking of the Northern Kingdom of Israel(lost sheep) being grafted back into the covenant that was renewed because of the changes needed to the sacrificial , priesthood and temple ordinances and statutes because Jesus fulfilled the Law for righteousness by becoming the sacrifice, High priest and moving the Temple to heaven which was the only way before Jesus for a sinner to counted righteous, this doesnt mean this covenant is not open to real gentiles but this requires obedience to it.
    Hosea 1:8-11, 2:14-23 will help you understand that the Northern Kingdom is the “not my people” that will be called again “His people” that were scattered amongst the nonIsraelites and lost their identity . Paul is bringing this to the attention of the jewish christians that these people may be their blood brothers

  6. on 08 Nov 2012 at 4:24 pmSarah


    Yes, I’ve heard this interpretation before. I have only taken a preliminary look at the case for it, but so far I do find it compelling.


    I agree, Agora is instructive. But anyone thinking of watching Agora should also be aware that it is a very disturbing and graphically violent movie.

    Just a friendly warning 🙂

  7. on 09 Nov 2012 at 12:36 amSean

    Agora depicts the 5th century …not exactly early Christianity

  8. on 09 Nov 2012 at 8:16 amXavier


    In other words, could it be that those who called “heretics” are the ones who hold the truth whereas the “defenders of the truth” are in reality defending false doctrine and unbiblical religion?

    These very same questions are explored and to some extent answered in Ehrman’s seminal work The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture [1993].

    Highly recommended!


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