Get the CD Now!

The True Doctrine of Celsus

CELSUS (178ECE) Wrote"On the True Doctrine, known primarily from the polemical book, "Contra Celsum," written br Origen of Alexandria in response the Celsus's questions. Celsus' books, along with those of Porphry and others, were condemned by order of Valentinian III and Theodosious in 448CE. Celsus' writing is one of the few writings made in response to christian claims that survives today in any form; the church, beginning with its first alliances with Roman power in Constantine's time, never took criticisms lightly; anyone with the audacity to question their claims was branded a "heretic," and their books were banned and burned, often alongside their authors. Celsus is one of the handful of critics who have not been written completely out of history.

Celsus gives us a glimpse of the criticisms made against christian claims. In that he wrote before the second century, it is interesting to note that many of his criticisms are still with us today as topics of lively debate. For example, Celsus' questions the compatability of God and the Devil within the framework of monotheism. The issues he raise are precisely the core of the "problem of evil" which has so occupied the minds of theologians. He mentions the issue of scriptural redaction and forgery, concerns which have proven valid in light of scholarly findings. He takes issue with prophecy, and makes the well-known case that nothing in the Jewish writings foretell the coming of a "world-saviour." The messiah, Celsus says, was to be a "leader of nations and armies." Celsus points out the obvious influence of greek myth and writings in the construction of the christian myth, and pokes fun at what he thinks of as greek myths being misinterpreted by christians as literal occurences.

The following quotes are taken from Celsus On the True Doctrine, translated by R. Joseph Hoffman, Oxford University Press, 1987:


"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: I have heard that some of your interpreters...are on to the inconsistencies and, pen in hand, alter the originals writings, three, four and several more times over in order to be able to deny the contradictions in the face of criticism." (37).

"There is nothing new or impressive about their ethical teaching; indeed, when one compares it to other philosophies, their simplemindedness becomes apparent." (53).

"One ought first to follow reason as a guide before accepting any belief, since anyone who believes without testing a doctrine is certain to be deceived" (54).


"Let us imagine what a Jew- let alone a philosopher- might say to Jesus: 'Is it not true, good sir, that you fabricated the story of your birth from a virgin to quiet rumourss about the true and insavoury circumstances of your origins? Is it not the case that far from being born in the royal David's city of bethlehem, you were born in a poor country town, and of a woman who earned her living by spinning? Is it not the case that when her deceit was uncovered, to wit, that she was pregnant by a roman soldier called Panthera she was driven away by her husband- the carpenter- and convicted of adultery?" (57).

"I could continue along these lines, suggesting a good deal about the affairs of Jesus' life that does not appear in your own records. Indeed, what I know to be the case and what the disciples tell are two very different stories... [for example] the nonsensical idea that Jesus foresaw everything that was to happen to him (an obvious attempt to conceal the humiliating facts)." (62).

"The men who fabricated this geneaology [of Jesus] were insistent on on the point that Jesus was descended from the first man and from the king of the Jews [David]. The poor carpenter's wife seems not to have known she had such a distinguished bunch of ancestors." (64).

"What an absurdity! Clearly the christians have used the myths of Danae and the Melanippe, or of the Auge and the Antiope in fabricating the story of Jesus' virgin birth." (57).

"After all, the old myths of the greeks that attribute a divine birth to Perseus, Amphion, Aeacus and Minos are equally good evidence of their wondrous works on behalf of mankind- and are certainly no less lacking in plausibility than the stories of your followers." (59).



"Now perhaps you will argue that we have the words of the holy prophets- that they bore witness concerning you. With due respect, I must ask why you are to be taken as the subject of these prophecies rather than the thousands of others who lived after the prophecy was uttered? What can be applied to you can surely be applied to others." (58).

"...they take as their defense the notion that the prophets of the jews foretold their christian god. But this is a very old ploy... anyone can prove anything from so-called prophecy." (106).

Speaking of prophets in his own time, Celsus says: "These habitually claim to to be more than prophets, and say such things as 'I am god,' or 'I am a son of god,' or even 'I am the holy spirit,' and 'I have come to bring life for the world is coming to an end as I speak. And the wicked will perish in the fire for their sins. I shall save you; you will yet see me, for I am coming again armed with the heavenly powers. So blessed is he that worships me now. Those who refuse, whole cities and nations, will be cast into the fiery pit... Those who hear and believe in me will be saved (from the fire.' This sort of thing is heard all over Judea by these most trivial of prophets." (107).

"You are fond of saying that in the old days this same most high god made these and greater promises to those who gave heed to his commandments and worshipped him. But at the risk of appearing unkind, I ask how much good has been done by those promises have done either the Jews before you or you in your present circumstances. And would you have us put out faith in such a god? Instead of being masters of the whole world, the jews today have no home of any kind." (125).

" with a view to the prophets who, so say the chrisitians, foretold the story of Jesus beforehand: 'These same prophecies could easily be applied to a thousand others besides Jesus, for our prophets say that the one who is to come will be a great prince... the leader of nations and armies." (64).

"Certainly the christians are not alone in claiming inspiration for the utterances they ascribe to their god through their prophets. I need hardly mention every case of prophecy that is said to have occurred among our own people-- prophets and prophetesses as well... claiming the power of oracular and inspired utterance." (120).

"In all of these beliefs you have been deceived; yet you persist doggedly to seek justification for the absurdities you have made doctrines." (65).

"Let's assume for a minute that he foretold his resurrection. Are you ignorant of the multitudes wh ohave invented similar tales to lead simple minded hearers astray? It is said that Zamolxis, Pythagoras' servant, convinced the Scythians that he had risen from the dead... and what about Pythagoras himself in Italy! -or Rhampssinitus in Egypt. The last of these, by the way, is said to have played dice with Demeter in Hades and to have received a golden napkin as a present from her. Now then, who else: What about Orpheus among the Odrysians, Protesiaus in Thessaly and above all Heracles and Theseus." (67).



"They [christians] postulate, for example, that their messiah will return as a conqueror on the clouds, and that he will rain fire upon the earth in his battle with the princes of the air, and that the whole world, with the exception of believing christians, will be consumed in fire. An interesting idead-- and hardly an original one. The idea came from greeks and others-- namely, that after cycles of years and because of fortuitous conjunctions of certain stars there are conflagrations and floods, and that after the last flood, in the tiome of Deucalion, the cycle demands a conflagration in accordance with the alternating succession...This is responsible for the silly opinion of some christians that god will come down and rain fire upon the earth." (77).

"It is equally silly of these christians to suppose that when their god applies the fire (like a common cook!) all the rest of mankind will be thoroughly scorched, and that they alone will escape unscorched-- not just those alive at the time, mind you, but (they say) those long since dead will rise up from the earth possessing the same bodies as they did before. I ask you: Is this not the hope of worms? For what sort of human soul is it that has any use for a rotted corpse of a body? is nothing less than nauseating and impossible."(86).

"In truth there is nothing at all unusual about what the christians believe, except that they believe it to the exclusion of more comprehensive truths about god. They believe in eternal punishment; well, so do the priests and initiates of the various religions. The christian threaten others with this punishment, just as they are themselves threatened." (121).

"God does not inflict correction on the world as if he were some unskilled laborer who is incapable of building something properly the first time around; God has no need to purify what he has built by means of a flood or a conflagration (as they teach)." (82).

"So too their fantastic story-- which they take from the Jews-- concerning the flood and the building of an enormous ark, and the business about the message being brought back to the survivors of the flood by a dove (or was it an old crow?). This is nothing more than a debased and nonsensical version of the myth of Deucalion, a fact I am sure they would not want to come light." (80).


"Many of the ideas of the christians have been expressed better-- and earlier-- by the greeks, who were however modest enough to refrain from saying that their ideas came from a god or a son of god. The ancients in their wisdom revealed certain truths to those able to understand: Plato, son of Ariston, points to the truth about the highest good when he says that it cannot be expressed in words, but rather comes from familiarity-- like a flash frpm the blue, imprinting itself upon the soul... But Plato, having said this, does not go on to record some myth to make his point (as do so many others), nor does he silence the inquirer who questions some of the truths he professes; Plato does not ask people to stop questioning, or to accept that god id like such and such...Rather, he tells us where his doctrines come from; there is, in short, a history to what he says, and he is happy to point to the sources of his knowledge, instead of asking us to believe that he speaks on his own authority..." (92-93).

"Not only do they misunderstand the words of the philosophers; they even stoop to assigning words of the philosophers to their Jesus. For example, we are told that Jesus judged the rich with the saying 'It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of god.' Yet we know that Plato expressed this very idea in a purer form when he said, 'It is impossible for an exceptionally good man to be exceptionally rich.'* Is one utterance more inspired than the other?" (94).

[*Plato, LAWS, 743A]

"You christians have a saying that goes something like this: 'Don't resist a man who insults you; even if he strikes you, offer your other cheek as well.' This is nothing new, and its been better said by others, especially by Plato, who ascribes the following to Socrates in the Crito...'ts never right to do wrong and never right to take revenge; nor is it right to give evil for evil, or in the case of one who has suffered some injury, to attempt to get even...'" (113).

"Christians, needless to say, utterly detest one another; they slander each other constantly with the vilest forms of abuse, and cannot come to any sort of agreement in their teaching. Each sect brands its own, fills the head of its own with deceitful nonsense...". (91).

"What do the christians say? They say, "First believe that the person who tells us these things is god's son... Now if these beleivers confess Jesus and others confess someone else, and if they all together have the slogan "Believe and be saved, or damn you," what is to happen to those who really do want to be saved? I mean, which path are they to follow, since advice of the same sort comes from all quarters? Are the ones who crave salvation to throw dice in order to find out where they should turn?" (93).

As for satan being cast down to earth, "Homer writes as follows of the words spoken by Hephaestus to Hera: 'Once when I was ready to defend you, he took my by the foot and cast me down from the heavenly places.' Zeus speaks to Hera as follows, 'Do you remember when you were hanging on high, when I attached anvils to his legs and cast unbroken chains of gold about your arms? You were hanging high in the ether of clouds. Then the gods struck...but I, seizing him, pitched him from the threshold of heaven, and he fell helplessly to earth.'" (100).


"But if these [Eden, Adam and Eve] are Truly creator's works, can it be that god should make what is evil? How can he repent when they become ungrateful or wicked? How can he find fault with his own handiwork, or threaten to destroy his own offspring? Where is he to banish them, out of the world that he himself has made?" (102)

"I mean, if it is accepted that all of nature-- everything in the world-- operates accoeding to the will of god and that nothing works contrary to his purposes, then it must be also be accepted that the angels, the demons, heroes-- everything in the universe-- are subject to the rule of the great god who rules over all." (115).

Go to the Chronological List of all Early Christian Writings

Please buy the CD to support the site, view it without ads, and get bonus stuff!

Early Christian Writings is copyright © Peter Kirby <E-Mail>.

Get the CD Now!

Kirby, Peter. "The True Doctrine of Celsus." Early Christian Writings. <>.