The second entry in this series of citations from Irenaeus’s comments on the incarnation comes, again, from the Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, this time from chap. 31. The translation is that of Joseph P. Smith, with one alternate rendering in brackets from John Behr.
So He united man with God and brought about a communion of God and man, we being unable in any other wise to have part in incorruptibility, had it not been for His coming to us. For incorruptibility, while invisible and imperceptible, would not help us; so He became visible, that we might be taken into full communication with incorruptibility. And because, being implicated in the first formation of Adam, we were bound to death through disobedience, the bonds of death had necessarily to be loosed through the obedience of Him who was made man for us; because death ruled in the body, it was necessary through the body that it should be done away with and let man go free from its oppression. So the Word was made flesh, in order that sin, destroyed by means of that same flesh, through which it had gained the mastery and taken hold and lorded it, should no longer be in us; and therefore our Lord took up the same first formation for an Incarnation, that so He might join battle on behalf of His forefathers, and overcome through [in] Adam what had stricken us through Adam.
Some of the biblical passages which show their influence on this paragraph are; John 1:14, 18; Romans 5:11-19; 6:6; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 42-54; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 2:11, 17; 1 John 1:3; and perhaps even Romans 8:3.
Smith’s and Behr’s translations are fairly literal, so below I’ll try to give a bit more dynamic rendering of the same passage, in an expansive, almost Amplified Bible, style.
“Jesus, in his incarnation—God becoming man—united man with God, and brought about a true joining, a reconciliation of God and humankind. We could not have done this ourselves; Christ had to bring this union about by his own initiative and work. While we rightly understand God to be incorruptible and invisible, high and far above us, this does not does not bring about our salvation. To make it possible for us to be united to the incorruptible, invisible God, Christ became visible, taking on a human body. We were all implicated in the sin of the first Adam. And our being implicated in that sin caused us to be bound by death, on account of Adam’s disobedience, as well as our own. Because our destruction and death sentence came about through a human being, it was necessary that our salvation and the cancellation of that death sentence should also come about through a human being. So Jesus Christ, the Word of God, was made flesh, for only in that way could sin’s mastery over us be broken. Christ became human to accomplish both our salvation, and even the salvation of those who had put their hope in God in Old Testament times. As a human being, he overcame both the sin and the death sentence imposed on us because of the first human being. The sin and death imposed on us on account of the actions of a human being, were remedied by the the actions of another human being, the God-man, Christ Jesus. This is the reason for the incarnation.
To close this article, note how close Irenaeus’s thought here is to that found in Romans 8:3 and Hebrews 2:14-15:
Romans 8:3 (ESV): “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (that is, the flesh of Jesus Christ).
Hebrews 2:14-15 (NIV): “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
Praise be to God.
December 5, 2013