One of the strongest supports for Christianity can come, surprisingly, in a backhanded way from its critics. One such is the ancient philosopher Celsus, who wrote a book against Christians in c.175. This work has been lost, but is largely preserved in the writings of Origen, who wrote Contra Celsum (Against Celsus) in 248 AD.
We will show that an ancient critic of Christianity gives some support to some of the most critical aspects of Christian theology.
First, lest we think Origen is falsely quoting or misrepresenting Celsus’ view, we have the statement of the noted scholar Philip Schaff:
But the rule which Origen prescribed to himself, of not allowing a single objection of his opponent to remain unanswered, leads him into a minuteness of detail, and into numerous repetitions, which fatigue the reader, and detract from the interest and unity of the work. He himself confesses that he began it on one plan, and carried it out on another. No doubt, had he lived to re-write and condense it, it would have been more worthy of his reputation. (Philip Schaff, Ante Nicene Fathers, Bible Truth Forum e-edition, 4.394)
We also have the words of Origen himself in the preface to his book against Celsus:
In the language of Celsus there seems to me to be no deceitfulness at all, not even that which is “vain; ”such deceitfulness, viz., as is found in the language of those who have founded philosophical sects, and who have been endowed with no ordinary talent for such pursuits. And as no one would say that any ordinary error in geometrical demonstrations was intended to deceive, or would describe it for the sake of exercise in such matters . . . (Schaff, 4.610)
So here we have Origen being respectful toward his subject. This was no street brawl, but an attempt to show respect for Celsus while showing his mistakes.
Still further, Origin was condemned a heretic for his false views on the nature of Jesus. Therefore we have Origen, who was not afraid to disagree with orthodox Christianity, carefully, respectfully, and tediously quoting Celsus, an admitted critic of Christianity who was trying to destroy it. Yet the writings help support some essential Christian teachings.
For example, William Paley, in one of his apologetic works titled A View of the Evidences of Christianity, shows us that Celsus only quoted books that were part of the canon of the New Testament. Paley gives about a page of references to Celsus’ quoting of the gospel writers, then sums up his point by saying
It is extremely material to remark, that Celsus not only perpetually referred to the accounts of Christ contained in the four Gospels, but that he referred to no other accounts; that he founded none of his objections to Christianity upon any thing delivered in spurious Gospels. (Paley, Christian Evidences, London: 1810, p.282)
Thus we have Origin giving a tedious, exhaustive refutation of an early critic of Christianity who only quoted the same gospels that we have today and none others. For example, when Celsus criticizes the Biblical account of Herod at the birth of Jesus (Schaff, 4.653), he is telling us that the ancient Christian scriptures included the story of Herod murdering the children at the birth of Jesus. When Celsus criticizes Jesus for gathering disciples that were “tax gatherers and sailors” (Schaff, 4.654), he affirms that the gospels include this account. Origen goes on for hundreds of pages, telling us about Celsus’ claims about the Bible.
Celsus’ lengthy descriptions of Bible passages was intended by him as an attack, but turn out to be supportive in some respects. We cannot conclude that the Bible was invented in the later centuries if we have lengthy references from an enemy of Christianity telling us that the Bible includes stories of Jesus virgin birth, death, and resurrection, and reaffirming to us that the books we now have are the same as what was circulated in the years after the events happened, and these were the Books being taught, not others.