‘A Preacher of the Truth’: The Apostle Paul and Irenaeus

Within decades of his death, Paul’s writings and name carry increasing gravitas as early Christian writers seek to claim and re-claim 'the Apostle' as a figure of authority in their rhetorical, apologetic, and polemical works. As such, Paul takes on a number of personal descriptions, including ‘the divine apostle’ (Clement of Alexandria), ‘the blessed apostle’ (Polycarp and 1 Clement), ‘the most holy apostle’ (Tertullian), and ‘the sanctified, the martyred, the most worthy of blessing’ (Ignatius). While the authority of the scriptures offers a framework within which second century debates between early Christian writers could take place, the authority of Paul himself offers a similar place around which debate and inquiry could occur. In particular, a subtle interplay of authorities appear in second century works which appeal both to the authority of the Pauline texts and to Paul’s authority as a teacher, preacher, and apostle. This interplay is especially visible in the writings of Irenaeus who refers to Paul as ‘the Apostle’ dozens of times and is clear in his Against Heresies that one of his aims is ‘to examine the opinion of this man, and expound the apostle’ (Haer. 4.41.4). This paper traces the way that each referent to ‘the Apostle’ by Irenaeus offers a glimpse at how Irenaeus envisioned Paul, whom he also describes as preacher and teacher. What image does Irenaeus present of Paul and how does his defense of ‘the Apostle’ and his writings shape this image? As this paper will make clear, the authority attributed to Paul by Irenaeus is one that derives from Paul’s name and his writings, the very use of which enables Irenaeus himself to claim the identity of one who is wise like Paul and who preaches ‘the truth’ as he does.