posted on Jun, 1 2008 @ 05:52 PM
CELSUS (~ 178 A.D.) Celsus was a second century Roman author and avid opponent of Christianity. He went to
great lengths to disprove the divinity of Jesus yet never denied His actual existence. Unfortunately for Celsus, he
sets himself up for criticism by mimicking the exact accusations brought against Jesus by the pharisees which
had already been addressed and refuted in the New Testament. There are two very important facts regarding
Celsus which make him one of the most important witnesses in this discussion:
* Though most secular passages are accused of being Christian interpolations, we can accept with certainty
this is not the case with Celsus! The sheer volume of his writings (specifically designed to discredit
Christianity) coupled with the hostile accusations presented in his work dismiss this chance immediately.
* The idea of Celsus getting his information entirely from Christian sources (another recurring accusation
against secular evidence) is wholly absurd. Though he is obviously aware of his opponents' beliefs (as
anyone who is engaging in a debate should be), Celsus wrote his exposition in the form of a dialogue
between a "Jewish Critic" and himself. This gives us cause to believe he used non-Christian (probably
On Jesus' Miracles: "Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired
certain [magical] powers... He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of
them gave himself out to be a god... It was by means of sorcery that He was able to accomplish the wonders
which He performed... Let us believe that these cures, or the resurrection, or the feeding of a multitude with a
few loaves... These are nothing more than the tricks of jugglers... It is by the names of certain demons, and by
the use of incantations, that the Christians appear to be possessed of [miraculous] power..."
Not only does Celsus confirm Jesus' existence, he also tries to debate the source of Jesus' miracles. Like the
pharisees of Jesus' day, Celsus tries to dismiss these miracles as both demonic possession and cheap parlor
tricks. However, he is clearly grasping at straws: On one hand Celsus accuses Jesus of performing magic learned
in Egypt, then later states it is by the power of possession, then states the miracles were not really miracles at all
but were illusionary tricks performed by a deceiver, then finally states the miracles never occurred!
On the Virgin Birth: "Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her
living by the work of her hands. His mother had been turned out by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade,
on being convicted of adultery [with a Roman soldier named Panthera]. Being thus driven away by her husband,
and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard."
Celsus acknowledges Jesus' birth and existence but does not accept the concept of a virgin conception. He tries
to dismiss Mary's premarital pregnancy as the result of an affair she had with a Roman soldier. Strangely
enough, there is a very similar passage in the Jewish Talmud which makes the same accusation. This gives us
reason to believe Celsus might have referenced Jewish sources for some of his arguments.
On the Apostles: "Jesus gathered around him ten or eleven persons of notorious character... tax-collectors,
sailors, and fishermen... [He was] deserted and delivered up by those who had been his associates, who had him
for their teacher, and who believed he was the savior and son of the greatest God... Those who were his
associates while alive, who listened to his voice, and enjoyed his instructions as their teacher, on seeing him
subjected to punishment and death, neither died with nor for him... but denied that they were even his disciples,
lest they die along with Him."
Celsus' intentions were to argue that if the disciples really believed Jesus was the Son of God, they would not
have forsaken Him at His arrest. Instead, he only ends up confirming the Biblical account! The Bible tells us when
Jesus was arrested, the apostles denied being His followers. It was only upon Jesus' resurrection they understood
the spiritual principles concerning Jesus' crucifixion and boldly went out to preach the Gospel. Celsus is also
wrong with his statement, [they] neither died with nor for him. We are told by early historians all but one of the
remaining apostles were killed for their faith.
On Jesus' Divinity: "One who was a God could neither flee nor be led away a prisoner... What great deeds did
Jesus perform as God? Did he put his enemies to shame or bring to an end what was designed against him? No
calamity happened even to him who condemned him... Why does he not give some manifestation of his divinity,
and free himself from this reproach, and take vengeance upon those who insult both him and his Father?"
Celsus ridicules Jesus for the exact same reasons the pharisees of His time ridiculed Him- if Jesus was the Son of
God, why didn't He save Himself from the cross? Neither Celsus nor the pharisees understood the spiritual
implications of Jesus' death to atone for sin. Celsus also asks why no judgment came upon the Jews but history
shows shortly after His death Jerusalem was invaded by the Romans, the Jewish temple was destroyed, and the
Jewish people were dispersed for almost 2,000 years!
John the Baptist "If any one predicted to us that the Son of God was to visit mankind, he was one of our
prophets, and the prophet of our God? John, who baptized Jesus, was a Jew."
Celsus confirms Jesus' baptism by John but asserts that John was the only one who actually prophesied His
coming- not the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
On the Crucifixion: "Jesus accordingly exhibited after His death only the appearance of wounds received on the
cross, and was not in reality so wounded as He is described to have been."
In this statement, Celsus confirms Jesus' death by crucifixion although he claims the only wounds Jesus received
were those inflicted by the crucifixion (thus denying any previous torture had taken place). But not even history
offers Celsus the benefit of a doubt as floggings were the standard form of torture given to victims prior to
crucifixion (See here). Celsus contradicts himself yet again when he later states Jesus was probably never even
crucified but instead had an impostor die in His place!
Skeptic Interjection: Celsus also states, "It is clear to me that the writings of the Christians are a lie and that
your fables are not well enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction." How do we know Celsus is
referring to a historical Jesus and not just debating myth?
Answer: Evidence which shows Celsus to be refuting aspects of a historical Jesus is as follows:
1. Our answer can be found in Celsus' own words: He was therefore a man, and of such a nature, as the
truth itself proves, and reason demonstrates him to be. Satisfied with his presentation of evidence, Celsus
offers his conclusion that Jesus was only a man- not a myth (or a God, as the apostles had claimed).
2. Instead of denying the alleged events, Celsus offers alternative theories to the early Christian claims (like
the virgin birth being a cover-up for an illegitimate pregnancy and the miracles actually being works of
sorcery). If he was discussing a mythical character, he would not have needed to go to such lengths but
merely to have dismissed Jesus as a myth. After all, there is no easier way to discredit a religion than to
assert its founder never existed! Of course, this is an argument Celsus never makes.
3. The "fables" Celsus refers to is his belief that the claims such as a virgin birth and resurrection were
embellishments created by early Christians- not that Jesus was Himself a myth. Celsus was debating the
claims of Jesus' divinity, not His existence.