Celsus, a Grecian eclectic philosopher of the second century, is the first heathen author who wrote an express work against Christianity. It bears the title, |A True Discourse.| Origen, in his able and effective refutation, has faithfully preserved the principal portions of it in the author's own language. Celsus employs all the aids which the culture of his age afforded -- the weapons of learning, philosophy, common sense, wit, sarcasm, and dramatic animation of style -- to disprove and ridicule Christianity and its followers. He combines the hatred of Judaism and the contempt of heathenism, and anticipates most of the arguments and sophisms of the Deists and Naturalists of later times.
And yet even this able infidel assailant, who lived almost within hailing distance of the apostolic age, bears witness, as St. Chrysostom already remarked, to the antiquity of the apostolic writings and the main facts of the gospel history. He thus furnishes a strong argument against the modern mythical and legendary biographists of Jesus. Celsus 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 Judæa; the adoration of the wise men from the East; the slaughter of the infants by order of Herod; the flight to Egypt, where he supposes 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 his disciples; his friendship with publicans and other low people; his 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 does not deny the miracles of Jesus, but, like the Jews, he derives them from evil spirits, and makes Jesus a magician and impostor. He alludes also to some of the principal doctrines of the Christians, to their private assemblies for worship, and to the office of presbyters. He omits the grosser charges of immorality, which he probably considered absurd and incredible.
Lucian, a brilliant but frivolous rhetorician of Syria, who died in Egypt or Greece about A.D.200, wrote at least indirectly against Christianity in his |Life of Peregrinus,| and treated it under disguise, as one of the many follies of the age, with the light weapons of wit and ridicule. Yet he never calls Christ an impostor, as Celsus did, but a |crucified sophist;| a term which he uses as often in a good sense as in the bad.