The Truth of Christianity Triumphs Over Persecutions From Both Sword and Parchment – By Daniel Sheridan (Twitter: @DanielWSheridan)
The first few centuries of the Christian era saw great persecution. The way the Christians bore it with love, courage, and hope was a testimony to the truthfulness of their faith. Christianity couldn’t be eliminated by the sword.
It was about the middle of the second century a new form of persecution arose – literary. Since the sword couldn’t wipe out the truth of the gospel, the enemies tried the pen and parchment.
The Greek and Roman writers of the first century didn’t notice Christianity at all. The first to take note were Tacitus and Pliny (the younger). However, they only mention Christianity in an off handed way and speak of it with disdain.
Tacitus, when writing about persecutions under Nero, says Christ was put to death as a malefactor under Pontus Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. He then says the followers of Christ were a vast multitude scattered throughout the empire and were being executed by Rome as early as A.D. 64. He also alludes to the destruction of Jerusalem thus verifying the prophecy of our Lord.
But the first real assault of parchment against Christianity was by a Grecian Philosopher named Celsus who wrote during the reign of the persecuting Marcus Aurelius.
Celsus expressed his contempt for Christianity in his work called, “A True Discourse.” Though the document is lost, a good portion of it is preserved in Origen’s refutation. The writing lacks humility, shows no sense of man’s need for redemption, and displays a total blindness to any spiritual realities. The work is so poor it refutes itself.
Celsus attacks the following:
1. The belief in the supernatural.
2. The future hope of the Kingdom of God.
3. The idea that God troubles Himself with the affairs of men. He said that God cares no more for people than he does monkeys or insects.
4. The idea of a future judgment of the just and the unjust.
5. He was extremely offended over the idea that the poor and miserable had promises in the gospel.
6. The doctrine of forgiveness of sins.
7. The doctrine of resurrection. He mockingly calls this a hope of worms, not rational people.
Celsus calls Christians stupid hicks who inherited their faith from the Jews. He called them uncultivated, superstitious, mechanics, slaves, women, and children (Remember this the next time you accuse Christianity of being anti-women!).
Celsus says they are deceived. The source of this deception begins with Jesus and His first disciples. They were sorcerers who circulated fabricated stories in the gospels. The resurrection was the greatest fabrication of all. Jesus learned this magic trick in Egypt and used it in his home country.
Phillip Schaff notes: “But here, this philosophical and critical sophistry virtually, acknowledges its bankruptcy. The hypothesis of deception is the very last one to offer in explanation of a phenomenon so important as Christianity was even in that day. The greater and more permanent the deception, the more mysterious and unaccountable it must appear to reason.”
“Chrysostom made the truthful remark, that Celsus bears witness to the antiquity of the apostolic writings. This heathen assailant, who lived almost within hailing distance of St. John, incidentally gives us an abridgement of the history of Christ as related by the Gospels, and this furnishes strong weapons against modern infidels, who would represent this history as a later invention. ‘I know everything’ he says; ‘we have had it all from your own books, and need no other testimony; ye slay yourselves with your own sword.’ He refers to the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John, and makes upon the whole about eighty allusions to, or quotations from, the New Testament. He takes notice of Christ’s birth from a virgin in a small village of Judaea, the adoration of the wise men from the East, the slaughter of the infants by order of Herod, the flight to Egypt, where he supposed Christ learned the charms of magicians, his residence in Nazareth, his baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove and the voice from heaven, the election of disciples, his friendship with publicans and other low people, his supposed cures of the lame and the blind, and raising of the dead, the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the principal circumstances in the history of the passion and crucifixion, also the resurrection of Christ.”
“It is true he perverts or abuses most of these facts; but according to his own showing they were then generally and had always been believed by the Christians. He alludes to some of the principal doctrines of the Christians, to their private assemblies for worship, to the office of presbyters. He omits the grosser charges of immorality, which he probably disowned as absurd and incredible.”
“In view of all these admissions we may here, with Lardner, apply Samson’s riddle: ‘Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.’
When it comes to Roman Power or Greek Wisdom Paul’s words prove true: “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
How firm a foundation we rest upon, beloved.