Vol. 2, Chapter III (Cont’d) – The Argument Against Judaism


In regard to the controversy with Judaism, we have two principal sources: the Dialogue of Justin Martyr with the Jew Trypho, based, it appears, on real interviews of Justin with Trypho; and Tertullian’s work against the Jews. Another work from the first half of the second century by Aristo of Pella, entitled “A Disputation of Jason and Papiscus concerning Christ,” is lost. It was known to Celsus who speaks contemptuously of it on account of its allegorical interpretation. Origen deems it useful for ordinary readers, though not calculated to make much impression on scholars. It was intended to show the fulfillment of the old prophecies in Christ, and ends with the conviction of the Jew Papiscus and his baptism by Jason. The author was a Jewish Christian of Pella, the city of refuge for the Christians of Jerusalem before the destruction.

I. The defensive apology answered the Jewish objections thus:

(1) Against the charge, that Christianity is an apostasy from the Jewish religion, it was held, that the Mosaic law, as far as it relates to outward rites and ceremonies was only a temporary institution for the Jewish nation foreshadowing the substance of Christianity, while its moral precepts as contained in the Decalogue were kept in their deepest spiritual sense only by Christians; that the Old Testament itself points to its own dissolution and the establishment of a new covenant (Isa_51:4 sqq.; Isa_55:3 sqq.; Jer_31:31 sqq); that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised, and women, who could not be circumcised, were yet saved.

(2) Against the assertion, that the servant-form of Jesus of Nazareth, and his death by the cross, contradicted the Old Testament idea of the Messiah, it was urged, that the appearance of the Messiah is to be regarded as twofold, first, in the form of a servant, afterwards in glory; and that the brazen serpent in the wilderness, and the prophecies of David in Psa_22:1-31, of Isa_53:1-12, and Zec_13:1-9, themselves point to the sufferings of Christ as his way to glory.

(3) To the objection, that the divinity of Jesus contradicts the unity of God and is blasphemy, it was replied, that the Christians believe likewise in only one God; that the Old Testament itself makes a distinction in the divine nature; that the plural expression: “Let us make man,” (Gen_1:26; Comp. Gen_3:21) the appearance of the three men at Mamre (Gen_18:1 sqq.) of whom one was confessedly God, yet distinct from the Creator (Gen_19:24), indicate this; and that all theophanies (which in Justin’s view are as many christophanies), and the Messianic Psalms (Psa_110:1 sqq.; Psa_45:7 sqq.; Psa_72:2-19, and others), which ascribe divine dignity to the Messiah, show the same.

II. The aggressive apology or polemic theology urges as evidence against Judaism:

(1) First and mainly that the prophecies and types of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus Christ and his church. Justin finds all the outlines of the gospel history predicted in the Old Testament: the Davidic descent of Jesus, for example, in Isa_11:1; the birth from a virgin in Isa_7:14; the birth at Bethlehem in Mic_5:1; the flight into Egypt in Hos_11:1 (rather than Psa_22:10?); the appearance of the Baptist in Isa_40:1-17; Mal_4:5; the heavenly voice at the baptism of Jesus in Psa_2:7; the temptation in the wilderness under the type of Jacob’s wrestling in Gen_32:24 sqq.; the miracles of our Lord in Isa_35:5; his sufferings and the several circumstances of his crucifixion in Isa_53:1-12 and Psa_22:1-31. In this effort, however, Justin wanders also, according to the taste of his uncritical age, into arbitrary fancies and allegorical conceits; as when he makes the two goats, of which one carried away the sins into the wilderness, and the other was sacrificed, types of the first and second advents of Christ; and sees in the twelve bells on the robe of the high priest a type of the twelve apostles, whose sound goes forth into all the world (Psa_19:4; Comp. Rom_10:18).

(2) The destruction of Jerusalem, in which Judaism, according to the express prediction of Jesus, was condemned by God himself, and Christianity was gloriously vindicated. Here the Jewish priest and historian Josephus, who wrote from personal observation a graphic description of this tragedy, had to furnish a powerful historical argument against his own religion and for the truth of Christianity. Tertullian sums up the prophetic predictions of the calamities which have befallen the Jews for rejecting Christ, “the sense of the Scriptures harmonizing with the events.”


39. The Defense Against Heathenism

I. The various Objections and Accusations of the heathens, which we have collected in § 36, were founded for the most part on ignorance or hatred, and in many cases contradicted themselves.

(1) The attack upon the miraculous in the evangelical history the apologists could meet by pointing to the similar element in the heathen mythology; of course proposing this merely in the way of argumentum ad hominem, to deprive the opposition of the right to object. For the credibility of the miraculous accounts in the Gospels, particularly that of the resurrection of Jesus, Origen appealed to the integrity and piety of the narrators, to the publicity of the death of Jesus, and to the effects of that event.

(2) The novelty and late appearance of Christianity were justified by the need of historical preparation in which the human race should be divinely trained for Christ; but more frequently it was urged also, that Christianity existed in the counsel of God from eternity, and had its unconscious votaries, especially among the pious Jews, long before the advent of Christ. By claiming the Mosaic records, the apologists had greatly the advantage as regards antiquity over any form of paganism, and could carry their religion, in its preparatory state, even beyond the flood and up to the very gates of paradise. Justin and Tatian make great account of the fact that Moses is much older than the Greek philosophers, poets, and legislators. Athenagoras turns the tables, and shows that the very names of the heathen gods are modern, and their statues creations of yesterday. Clement of Alexandria calls the Greek philosophers thieves and robbers, because they stole certain portions of truth from the Hebrew prophets and adulterated them. Tertullian, Minucius Felix and others raise the same charge of plagiarism.

(3) The doctrine of the resurrection of the body, so peculiarly offensive to the heathen and Gnostic understanding, was supported, as to its possibility, by reference to the omnipotence of God, and to the creation of the world and of man; and its propriety and reasonableness were argued from the divine image in man, from the high destiny of the body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, and from its intimate connection with the soul, as well as from the righteousness and goodness of God. The argument from analogy was also very generally used, but often without proper discrimination. Thus, Theophilus alludes to the decline and return of the seasons, the alternations of day and night, the renewal of the waning and waxing moon, the growth of seeds and fruits. Tertullian expresses his surprise that anybody should deny the possibility and probability of the resurrection in view of the mystery of our birth and the daily occurrences of surrounding nature. “All things,” he says, “are preserved by dissolution, renewed by perishing; and shall man … the lord of all this universe of creatures, which die and rise again, himself die only to perish forever?”

(4) The charge of immoral conduct and secret vice the apologists might repel with just indignation, since the New Testament contains the purest and noblest morality, and the general conduct of the Christians compared most favorably with that of the heathens. “Shame! shame!” they justly cried; “to roll upon the innocent what you are openly guilty of, and what belongs to you and your gods!” Origen says in the preface to the first book against Celsus: “When false witness was brought against our blessed Saviour, the spotless Jesus, he held his peace, and when he was accused, returned no answer, being fully persuaded that the tenor of his life and conduct among the Jews was the best apology that could possibly be made in his behalf … And even now he preserves the same silence, and makes no other answer than the unblemished lives of his sincere followers; they are his most cheerful and successful advocates, and have so loud a voice that they drown the clamors of the most zealous and bigoted adversaries.”

II. To their defence the Christians, with the rising consciousness of victory, added direct arguments against heathenism, which were practically sustained by its dissolution in the following period.

(1) The popular religion of the heathens, particularly the doctrine of the gods, is unworthy, contradictory, absurd, immoral, and pernicious. The apologists and most of the early church teachers looked upon the heathen gods not as mere imaginations or personified powers of nature or deifications of distinguished men, but as demons or fallen angels. They took this view from the Septuagint version of Psa_96:5, and from the immorality of those deities, which was charged to demons (even sexual intercourse with fair daughters of men, according to Gen_6:2).

“What sad fates,” says Minucius Felix, “what lies, ridiculous things, and weaknesses we read of the pretended gods! Even their form, how pitiable it is! Vulcan limps; Mercury has wings to his feet; Pan is hoofed; Saturn in fetters; and Janus has two faces, as if he walked backwards … Sometimes Hercules is a hostler, Apollo a cow-herd, and Neptune, Laomedon’s mason, cheated of his wages. There we have the thunder of Jove and the arms of Aeneas forged on the same anvil (as if the heavens and the thunder and lightning did not exist before Jove was born in Crete); the adultery of Mars and Venus; the lewdness of Jupiter with Ganymede, all of which were invented for the gods to authorize men in their wickedness.” “Which of the poets,” asks Tertullian, “does not calumniate your gods? One sets Apollo to keep sheep; another hires out Neptune to build a wall; Pindar declares Esculapius was deservedly scathed for his avarice in exercising the art of medicine to a bad purpose; whilst the writers of tragedy and comedy alike, take for their subjects the crimes or the miseries of the deities. Nor are the philosophers behindhand in this respect. Out of pure contempt, they would swear by an oak, a goat, a dog. Diogenes turned Hercules into ridicule; and the Roman Cynic Varro introduces three hundred Joves without heads.” From the stage abuser the sarcastic African father selects, partly from his own former observation, those of Diana being flogged, the reading of Jupiter’s will after his decease, and the three half-starved Herculesses! Justin brings up the infanticide of Saturn, the parricide, the anger, and the adultery of Jupiter, the drunkenness of Bacchus, the voluptuousness of Venus, and he appeals to the judgment of the better heathens, who were ashamed of these scandalous histories of the gods; to Plato, for example, who for this reason banishes Homer from his ideal State. Those myths, which had some resemblance to the Old Testament prophecies or the gospel history, Justin regards as caricatures of the truth, framed by demons by abuse of Scripture. The story of Bacchus, for instance rests in his fanciful view, on Gen_49:11 sq.; the myth of the birth of Perseus from a virgin, on Isa_7:14; that of the wandering of Hercules, on Psa_19:6; the fiction of the miracles of Esculapius on Isa_35:1 sqq.

Origen asks Celsus, why it is that he can discover profound mysteries in those strange and senseless accidents, which have befallen his gods and goddesses, showing them to be polluted with crimes and doing many shameful things; whilst Moses, who says nothing derogatory to the character of God, angel, or man, is treated as an impostor. He challenges any one to compare Moses and his laws with the best Greek writers; and yet Moses was as far inferior to Christ, as he was superior to the greatest of heathen sages and legislators.

(2) The Greek philosophy, which rises above the popular belief, is not suited to the masses, cannot meet the religious wants, and confutes itself by its manifold contradictions. Socrates, the wisest of all the philosophers, himself acknowledged that he knew nothing. On divine and human things Justin finds the philosophers at variance among themselves; with Thales water is the ultimate principle of all things; with Anaximander, air; with Heraclitus, fire; with Pythagoras, number. Even Plato not seldom contradicts himself; now supposing three fundamental causes (God, matter, and ideas), now four (adding the world-soul); now he considers matter is unbegotten, now as begotten; at one time he ascribes substantiality to ideas, at another makes them mere forms of thought, etc. Who, then, he concludes, would intrust to the philosophers the salvation of his soul?

(3) But, on the other hand, the Greek apologists recognized also elements of truth in the Hellenic literature, especially in the Platonic and Stoic philosophy, and saw in them, as in the law and the prophecies of Judaism, a preparation of the way for Christianity. Justin attributes all the good in heathenism to the divine Logos, who, even before his incarnation, scattered the seeds of truth (hence the name “Logos spermaticos”), and incited susceptible spirits to a holy walk. Thus there were Christians before Christianity; and among these he expressly reckons Socrates and Heraclitus. Besides, he supposed that Pythagoras, Plato, and other educated Greeks, in their journeys to the East, became acquainted with the Old Testament writings, and drew from them the doctrine of the unity of God, and other like truths, though they in various ways misunderstood them, and adulterated them with pagan errors. This view of a certain affinity between the Grecian philosophy and Christianity, as an argument in favor of the new religion, was afterwards further developed by the Alexandrian fathers, Clement and Origen.

The Latin fathers speak less favorably of the Greek philosophy; yet even Augustin acknowledges that the Platonists approach so nearly to Christian truth that with a change of some expressions and sentences they would be true Christians (in theory).


40. The Positive Apology

The Christian apology completed itself in the positive demonstration of the divinity of the new religion; which was at the same time the best refutation of both the old ones. As early as this period the strongest historical and philosophical arguments for Christianity were brought forward, or at least indicated, though in connection with many untenable adjunct.

1. The great argument, not only with Jews, but with heathens also, was the prophecies; since the knowledge of future events can come only from God. The first appeal of the apologists was, of course, to the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, in which they found, by a very liberal interpretation, every event of the gospel history and every lineament of our Saviour’s character and work. In addition to the Scriptures, even such fathers as Clement of Alexandria, and, with more caution, Origen, Eusebius, St. Jerome, and St. Augustin, employed also, without hesitation, apocryphal prophecies, especially the Sibylline oracles, a medley of ancient heathen, Jewish, and in part Christian fictions, about a golden age, the coming of Christ, the fortunes of Rome, and the end of the world. And indeed, this was not all error and pious fraud. Through all heathenism there runs, in truth, a dim, unconscious presenti-ment and longing hope of Christianity. Think of the fourth Eclogue of Virgil, with its predictions of the “virgo” and “nova progenies” from heaven, and the “puer,” with whom, after the blotting out of sin and the killing of the serpent, a golden age of peace was to begin. For this reason Virgil was the favorite poet of the Latin church during the middle ages, and figures prominently in Dante’s Divina Comedia as his guide through the dreary regions of the Inferno and Purgatorio to the very gates of Paradise. Another pseudo-prophetic book used by the fathers (Tertullian, Origen, and apparently Jerome) is “The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,” written by a Jewish Christian between a.d. 100 and 120. It puts into the mouth of the twelve sons of Jacob farewell addresses and predictions of the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection, of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the rejection of the gospel by the Jews, and the preaching of Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world.

2. The types. These, too, were found not only in the Old Testament, but in the whole range of nature. Justin saw everywhere, in the tree of life in Eden, in Jacob’s ladder, in the rods of Moses and Aaron, nay, in every sailing ship, in the wave-cutting oar, in the plough, in the human countenance, in the human form with outstretched arms, in banners and trophies — the sacred form of the cross, and thus a prefiguration of the mystery of redemption through the crucifixion of the Lord.

3. The miracles of Jesus and the apostles, with those which continued to be wrought in the name of Jesus, according to the express testimony of the fathers, by their contemporaries. But as the heathens also appealed to miraculous deeds and appearances in favor of their religion, Justin, Arnobius, and particularly Origen, fixed certain criteria, such as the moral purity of the worker, and his intention to glorify God and benefit man, for distinguishing the true miracles from Satanic juggleries. “There might have been some ground,” says Origen, “for the comparison which Celsus makes between Jesus and certain wandering magicians, if there had appeared in the latter the slightest tendency to beget in persons a true fear of God, and so to regulate their actions in prospect of the day of judgment. But they attempt nothing of the sort. Yea, they themselves are guilty of the most grievous crimes; whereas the Saviour would have his hearers to be convinced by the native beauty of religion and the holy lives of its teachers, rather than by even the miracles they wrought.”

The subject of post-apostolic miracles is surrounded by much greater difficulties in the absence of inspired testimony, and in most cases even of ordinary immediate witnesses. There is an antecedent probability that the power of working miracles was not suddenly and abruptly, but gradually withdrawn, as the necessity of such outward and extraordinary attestation of the divine origin of Christianity diminished and gave way to the natural operation of truth and moral suasion. Hence St. Augustin, in the fourth century, says: “Since the establishment of the church God does not wish to perpetuate miracles even to our day, lest the mind should put its trust in visible signs, or grow cold at the sight of common marvels.” But it is impossible to fix the precise termination, either at the death of the apostles, or their immediate disciples, or the conversion of the Roman empire, or the extinction of the Arian heresy, or any subsequent era, and to sift carefully in each particular case the truth from legendary fiction.

It is remarkable that the genuine writings of the ante-Nicene church are more free from miraculous and superstitious elements than the annals of the Nicene age and the middle ages. The history of monasticism teems with miracles even greater than those of the New Testament. Most of the statements of the apologists are couched in general terms, and refer to extraordinary cures from demoniacal possession (which probably includes, in the language of that age, cases of madness, deep melancholy, and epilepsy) and other diseases, by the invocation of the name of Jesus. Justin Martyr speaks of such cures as a frequent occurrence in Rome and all over the world, and Origen appeals to his own personal observation, but speaks in another place of the growing scarcity of miracles, so as to suggest the gradual cessation theory as held by Dr. Neander, Bishop Kaye, and others. Tertullian attributes many if not most of the conversions of his day to supernatural dreams and visions, as does also Origen, although with more caution. But in such psychological phenomena it is exceedingly difficult to draw the line of demarcation between natural and supernatural causes, and between providential interpositions and miracles proper. The strongest passage on this subject is found in Irenaeus, who, in contending against the heretics, mentions, besides prophecies and miraculous cures of demoniacs, even the raising of the dead among contemporary events taking place in the Catholic church; but he specifies no particular case or name; and it should be remembered also, that his youth still bordered almost on the Johannean age.

4. The moral effect of Christianity upon the heart and life of its professors. The Christian religion has not only taught the purest and sublimest code of morals ever known among men, but actually exhibited it in the life sufferings, and death of its founder and true followers. All the apologists, from the author of the Epistle to Diognetus down to Origen, Cyprian, and Augustin, bring out in strong colors the infinite superiority of Christian ethics over the heathen, and their testimony is fully corroborated by the practical fruits of the church, as we shall have occasion more fully to show in another chapter. “They think us senseless,” says Justin, “because we worship this Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as God next to the Father. But they would not say so, if they knew the mystery of the cross. By its fruits they may know it. We, who once lived in debauchery, now study chastity; we, who dealt in sorceries, have consecrated ourselves to the good, the increate God; we, who loved money and possessions above all things else, now devote our property freely to the general good, and give to every needy one; we, who fought and killed each other, now pray for our enemies; those who persecute us in hatred, we kindly try to appease, in the hope that they may share the same blessings which we enjoy.”

5. The rapid spread of Christianity by purely moral means, and in spite of the greatest external obstacles, yea, the bitter persecution of Jews and Gentiles. The anonymous apologetic Epistle to Diognetus which belongs to the literature of the Apostolic Fathers, already thus urges this point: “Do you not see the Christians exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest? This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are the evidences of his manifestation.” Justin Martyr and Tertullian frequently go on in a similar strain. Origen makes good use of this argument against Celsus, and thinks that so great a success as Christianity met among Greeks and barbarians, learned and unlearned persons in so short a time, without any force or other worldly means, and in view of the united opposition of emperors, senate, governors, generals, priests, and people, can only be rationally accounted for on the ground of an extraordinary providence of God and the divine nature of Christ.

6. The reasonableness of Christianity, and its agreement with all the true and the beautiful in the Greek philosophy and poesy. All who had lived rationally before Christ were really, though unconsciously, already Christians. Thus all that is Christian is rational, and all that is truly rational is Christian. Yet, on the other hand, of course, Christianity is supra-rational (not irrational).

7. The adaptation of Christianity to the deepest needs of human nature, which it alone can meet. Here belongs Tertullian’s appeal to the “testimonia animae naturaliter Christianae;” his profound thought, that the human soul is, in its inmost essence and instinct, predestined for Christianity, and can find rest and peace in that alone. “The soul,” says he, “though confined in the prison of the body, though perverted by bad training, though weakened by lusts and passions, though given to the service of false gods, still no sooner awakes from its intoxication and its dreams, and recovers its health, than it calls upon God by the one name due to him: ‘Great God! good God!’ — and then looks, not to the capitol, but to heaven; for it knows the abode of the living God, from whom it proceeds.”

This deep longing of the human soul for the living God in Christ, Augustin, in whom Tertullian’s spirit returned purified and enriched, afterwards expressed in the grand sentence: “Thou, O God, hast made us for thee, and our heart is restless, till it rests in thee.”