Christians and Their Spineless God
By Dr. Sigve Tonstad
About the year 175 in the Christian era, perhaps in the year 177, a new book hit the bookstores in the Roman World. The emperor at that time was Marcus Aurelius, notable for his enlightened beliefs but also for allowing persecution of Christians in many places in the empire. The author of the book was the philosopher Celsus, and the title was On the True Doctrine, hardly a title destined to make the book a bestseller.
But the book is remarkable for a number of reasons, the first of which is that it was written at all. Why would a non-Christian author like Celsus, a philosopher of some note, write a book on the Christians and their beliefs? Part of the answer is no doubt that Celsus did not like the teachings of believers in Jesus. But this is not the whole answer. Admitting that we know very little about Celsus, we can be sure that he disliked many things that did not bother him enough to become the subject of a book.
The other element that helps explain Celsus’ book, therefore, is the growing influence of Christianity. The new faith was impacting the Roman world; it could no longer be ignored; its influence was reaching the educated tier of the empire. Celsus’ book set for itself the task of countering the influence of the Christian message. In this sense his book was the first of its kind. It would not, as is well known, be the last.