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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion

Current Postgraduate Research Students

Publication details for Professor Lewis Ayres

Ayres, L. (2015). Irenaeus vs. the Valentinians: Toward a Rethinking of Patristic Exegetical Origins. Journal of Early Christian Studies 23(2): 153-187.

Author(s) from Durham


An under-studied dimension of Irenaeus’s exegetical practice is his extensive use of Hellenistic literary-critical techniques. He couples this usage with a consistent claim that the meaning of texts should primarily be established by attending to the “clear” or “manifest” sense of terms and expressions. Irenaeus’s practice culminates a gradual and deepening engagement with these techniques apparent in earlier Christian texts, but the suddenness and striking quality of his advance is best explained by seeing him as reacting to the Val-entinian production of commentary literature that claims the cultural capital of ancient literary-critical techniques to justify reading the texts of the “New Testament” as enigmatic ciphers for Valentinian myths. Irenaeus responds by making a distinct claim on the same cultural capital—one that utilizes an established anti-allegorical rhetoric—to justify his own practice. Understanding Irenaeus’s particular adaptation of ancient literary-critical practice provides a deeper context for considering his emphasis on reading in the light of the regula veritatis. In so doing he becomes a foundational figure in shaping the exegetical practice so central to early Christianity in the centuries that follow.