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Origen Answered It: An Incomplete List of Skeptical Arguments Answered 1800 years ago by Origen, Contra Celsum Book I

I have already discussed the fact that Origen* responded to a number of “modern” arguments long before our modern times.

For the skeptical arguments I have tried to include links or at least names. Sometimes they may be common enough that I think anyone could just do a Google search to discover the skeptical argument is made to this day. Also, some of the skeptical arguments are put forth by Celsus as coming from Jews attacking converts to Christianity. Several of these arguments will be covered here as well.

Origen’s answers I provide here are, and I must emphasize this, summaries of what he said, not his answer in its entirety. Interested readers should track down the original reference to see what he said. It should also be noted that Contra Celsum is written in a kind of challenge/response format that does not necessitate or entail lengthy discussions. Other thinkers–either modern or historic–provide longer answers than Origen did to pretty much every argument noted here.

Skeptical Argument: Faith is belief without evidence/pretending to know something you don’t know. [See Peter Boghossian]
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I, Chapter 10- All systems of thought require some element of belief without evidence, including skepticism, Platonism, and the like.

Skeptical Argument: Jesus learned how to do tricks in Egypt/Jesus’ birth accounts made up to glorify him
Origen’s Answer: 
Contra Celsum Book I, Chapter 28ff- Jesus’ birth account highlights the humility to which he is born rather than serving as a way to embellish or glorify his birth.

Skeptical Argument: Mary was not a virgin but had adultery with or was raped by a Roman soldier (named Panthera as argued by Celsus), as opposed to being a virgin[Suggested by a BBC documentary, among other modern and ancient sources]
Origen’s Answer: 
Contra Celsum Book I Chapter XXXII Had Christians wanted to make up something about Jesus’ birth, they could have just as easily said that Joseph was Jesus’ legitimate father rather than inviting speculation about rape or adultery

Skeptical Argument: The prophecy alluded to by Matthew in Isaiah does not refer to a virgin birth/Matthew and Luke themselves may not intend the reference to be to a virgin birth [See Bart Ehrman, for example]
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter XXXIV and XXXV- the Hebrew actually does seem to favor the notion of it referring to a virgin, moreover the prophecy doesn’t make sense were it but a young woman having a child, which would not have been remarkable enough to be a sign

Skeptical Argument: The suffering servant prophesies found in Isaiah 53 refers to the nation of Israel rather than Jesus.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LV- the passage in question is full of things which don’t make sense when applied broadly to a whole nation rather than single person. Moreover, the prophecy does not line up with Israel as well as it does to Jesus.

Skeptical Argument: The star of Bethlehem is an unexplained phenomenon made up to lend credence to the importance of Jesus’ birth in the narratives.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LVIII- The Star of Bethlehem was actually a comet and may have been reported by other ancients. See here for a book that has much more on this topic.
Objection: Comets are bad omens and so the Star wouldn’t have been a sign of the birth of the Messiah.
Origen’s Response: Comets are bad omens for those regimes which may be overthrown, but good signs for those whose regime may be rising.

Skeptical Argument: Certain portions of the Gospels show difficulties with Christian beliefs.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXIII- Skeptics like Celsus utilize the Gospels as historical where convenient, then reject whatever parts might answer their objections.

Skeptical Argument: Christianity allows for the worst sorts of people to get off free in the grand scheme of things. The worst people are simply forgiven.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXIII and following- The conversion of wrongdoers is not to be mocked or scorned but rather shows the power of Christianity to convince the wicked to reform.

Skeptical Argument: How could God die?
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXVI- God took on human flesh in the person of the Son.

Skeptical Argument: Jesus’ miracles in the Gospels can be mimicked or repeated by charlatans.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXVIII- Such allegations fail due to the context in which the miracles occur as well as the reasons behind the miracles/wonders.

Skeptical Argument: Jesus uses his voice and eats food–things gods need not do.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXX- Jesus was God clothed in human flesh and used his voice to convince others.

*It is worth noting that Origen was heterodox on a number of topics, including having a deficient view of the Trinity, specifically regarding the Father and the Son. However, Origen also pre-dated much of the debates over orthodox Christian theology. It is beneficial to read Origen to see the range of Christian thought in his own time period, as well as to see what kind of responses were being offered to non-Christians related to key issues.


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Faith is Belief without Evidence? Origen Contra Boghossian (and others)– I delve deeper into one of the arguments Origen makes, while noting that it answers one of the modern skeptical attacks on Christianity.

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Book Review: “The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom” by Andrew Abernethy

igk-abernethyAndrew Abernethy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom has a kind of dual purpose: introducing readers to the overarching themes of the Book of Isaiah and to show that Kingdom in particular is central to understanding the Book of Isaiah.

Abernethy acknowledges a number of difficulties with Isaiah, including the difficulty of tying down its historical context, the problem of a “meta-history” of the book and its composition and getting to its final form, and the sheer size of it going against several attempts at a unified meaning. Nevertheless, he takes on that latter task, and on the way manages to deal with the other difficulties, at least in passing.

Abernethy traces the concept of “Kingdom” in Isaiah through five chapters that each focus on one aspect of the Kingdom: God as King now and to come; God as saving King, God as warrior/compassionate king; lead agents of the king; and the people of God’s kingdom. The first three of these provide a broad thematic overview of Isaiah, splitting it into three parts, and the latter two cover each of the three parts related to the thesis.

The book is quite dense despite having a somewhat introductory idea. That is almost certainly because Isaiah itself is so dense that in order to do it justice, Abernethy was forced to introduce a vast amount of information. What makes the book particularly useful is that Abernethy ties Isaiah not just together, but also into the canonical narrative, and this is perhaps most prominent in the God as saving King and people of God’s kingdom sections. As an example, in the section on God as saving king, there is a small (two-page) section on Isaiah 40:1-11 and 52:7-10 in canonical context which contains over a dozen references to other canonical references (this at a glance). Abernethy thus deftly balances reading Isaiah on its own terms with understanding it both in its historical and canonical context. The fact that such a sentence can be written itself speaks highly of the work.

Perhaps the biggest strike against the book is that because it does have a rather basic feeling to it, and because Isaiah is itself so dense, the work feels much longer than it actually is. It stands at 200 pages sans the appendix, but feels much longer simply because so much space is covered, with multitudes of Scriptural references on each page. This makes me question what audience the book was written towards, as beginners will likely feel it is a daunting read, while those who’ve done a good amount of reading on Isaiah already will have picked up on most of the themes contained here. That said, the book can easily serve as a great reference and tool to glance over when one wants to explore the book of Isaiah in more depth. It is about as compact an introduction–while still being useful–as one could expect.

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom isn’t trying to forge much new ground. Rather, it is a dense survey of a book of the Bible that is packed full of information. Abernethy does readers a service by helping to unpack Isaiah while sticking to broad themes rather than individual debates.

The Good

+Focus on broad themes makes it more readable
+Good reference work for themes in Isaiah
+Highlights many of the more interesting questions about the book of Isaiah

The Bad

-Incredibly dense for such a short read
-May be off-putting to some of the target audience

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