What follows is a relatively long and extremely interesting passage from Eusebius Pamphili of Caesarea, in Book 3, chapter 5 of his Demonstratio Evangelica (Proof of the Gospel). This passage is one of the most interesting to me among the Nicene Fathers for a great many reasons. I will just note a few of them here. First, in the following passage Eusebius gives us an apologetic for the authorship of each Gospel (i.e., a reason to think that each Gospel was written by the figure to whom it is traditionally ascribed). His apologetic stands as a good one even today, for there is nothing in the finding of modern scholarship or the advances in the historical-critical method of textual criticism, which renders the arguments herein void, obselete or even refuted. Remember that Eusebius was writing in the early fourth century, so his defence of the authorship of each Gospel is all the more interesting precisely because of how early in Christian history it comes. Considering how early Eusebius is, all things considered, it is also very interesting that he quotes Josephus talking about Jesus, and the passage looks identical to the one we find in Josephus today. Generally scholars argue that Josephus was tampered with by Christian redactors (which seems plausible to me), but it is curious that Eusebius’ quotation of Josephus in the early 300’s implies either that Christians redacted Josephus during the period when Christianity was both illegal and hotly persecuted, or else that the redactor(s) also read through the Church Fathers extensively and redacted their writings as well. The latter is even more implausible than the former, and while I’m inclined to believe that Josephus’ text is redacted, it is a note worthy of reminder that there is still a stream of scholarship which has argued that this passage in its entirety really does spill out on paper from Josephus’ pen.
The most interesting feature of this passage, however, is the double-edged apologetic it gives for the Gospel accounts. On the one hand, Eusebius argues that it is implausible to think that the Apostles and earliest disciples all conspired together to not only lie about Jesus, but to maintain the very same lie (i.e., that he was crucified, died in a shameful way, etc.), and on the other hand he goes farther and argues that the embarrassing elements of the Gospel accounts are best explained by being true, and if that minimum is true then, likely, Jesus was the kind of teacher who taught his disciples the value of truth and honesty, and then it cannot be supposed that the Gospel authors, telling the truth about the most embarrassing facts surrounding Jesus of Nazareth (like that they all deserted him, and that one of them betrayed him), that they should with the same pen, with practically the same stroke, record that Jesus had done such miraculous things and taught such wonderful things as to gather to himself men from all around.
I recall reading this passage when I was first delving into and discovering the Church Fathers (back when I had almost become a Muslim, and the challenge of Islam made me look seriously into the origins of Christianity), and this passage was, for me, among the most entertaining, memorable and ‘faith-inculcating’ passages I had read in the vast Patristic literature. Looking back on it today, I continue to think that Eusebius’ arguments here are very good, and if they require anything it is not adjustment but addition. I also constantly forget where the passage is exactly, so having found it again today (on my birthday as it happens [Edit: this was posted at 12:13, so technically on the day after my birthday]) I decided to post it here for ease of access and reference.
He [Jesus] commanded them besides all this to hold so fast to truth, that so far from swearing falsely they should not need to swear at all, and to contrive to exhibit a life more faithful than any oath, going so far only as Yea and Nay, and using the words with truth.
I would ask, then, where would be the sense in suspecting that hearers of such teaching, who were themselves masters in such instruction, invented their account of their Master’s work? How is it possible to think that they were all in agreement to lie, being twelve in number especially chosen, and seventy besides, whom He is said to have sent two and two before His face into every place and country into which He Himself would come? But no argument can prove that so large a body of men were untrustworthy, who embraced a holy and godly life, regarded their own affairs as of no account, and instead of their dearest ones —-I mean their wives, children, and all their family—-chose a life of poverty, and carried to all men as from one mouth a consistent account of their Master. Such would be the right and obvious and true argument; let us examine that which opposes it. Imagine the teacher and his disciples. Then admit the fanciful hypothesis that he teaches not the aforesaid things, but doctrines opposed to them, that is to say, to transgress, to be unholy, to be unjust, to be covetous and fraudulent, and anything else that is evil; that he recommends them to endeavour so to do without being found out, and to hide their disposition quite cleverly with a screen of holy teaching and a novel profession of godliness. Let the pupils pursue these, and more vicious ideals still, with the eagerness and inventiveness of evil: let them exalt their teacher with lying words, and spare no falsity: let them record in fictitious narrative his miracles and works of wonder, so that they may gain admiration and felicitation for being the pupils of such a master. Come, tell me, if such an enterprise engineered by such men would hold together? You know the saying, “The rogue is neither dear to rogue nor saint.”1 Whence came, among a crew of so many, a harmony of rogues? Whence their general and consistent evidence about everything, and their agreement even unto death? Who, in the first place, would give heed to a wizard giving such teaching and commands? Perhaps you will say that the rest were wizards no less than their guide. Yes—-but surely they had all seen the end of their teacher, and the death to which He came. Why then after seeing His miserable end did they stand their ground? Why did they construct a theology about Him when He was dead? Did they desire to share His fate? No one surely on any reasonable ground would choose such a punishment with his eyes open.
And if it be supposed that they honoured Him, while He was still their comrade and companion, and as some might say their deceitful cozener, yet why was it that after His death they honoured Him far more than before? For while He was still with men they are said to have once deserted Him and denied Him, when the plot was engineered against Him, yet after He had departed from men, they chose willingly to die, rather than to depart from their good witness about Him. Surely if they recognized nothing that was good in their Master, in His life, or His teaching, or His actions—-no praiseworthy deed, nothing in which He had benefited them, but only wickedness and the leading astray of men, they could not possibly have witnessed eagerly by their deaths to His glory and holiness, when it was open to them all to live on untroubled, and to pass a life of safety by their own hearths with their dear ones. How could deceitful and shifty men have thought it desirable to die for some one else, especially, if one may say so, for a man who they knew had been of no service to them, but their teacher in all evil? For while a reasonable and honourable man for the sake of some good object may with good reason sometimes undergo a glorious death, yet surely men of vicious nature, slaves to passion and pleasure, pursuing only the life of the moment and the satisfactions which belong to it, are not the people to undergo punishment even for friends and relations, far less for those who have been condemned for crime. How then could His disciples, if He was really a deceiver and a wizard, recognized by them as such, with their own minds enthralled by still worse viciousness, undergo at the hands of their fellow-countrymen every insult and every form of punishment on account of the witness they delivered about Him?—-this is all quite foreign to the nature of scoundrels.
And once more consider this. Granted that they were deceitful cozeners, you must add that they were uneducated, and quite common men, and Barbarians to boot, with no knowledge of any tongue but Syrian—-how, then, did they go into all the world? Where was the intellect to sketch out so daring a scheme? What was the power that enabled them to succeed in their adventure? For I will admit that if they confined their energies to their own country, men of no education might deceive and be deceived, and not allow a matter to rest. But to preach to all the Name of Jesus, to teach about His marvellous deeds in country and town, that some of them should take possession of the Roman Empire, and the Queen of Cities itself, and others the Persian, others the Armenian, that others should go to the Parthian race, and yet others to the Scythian, that some already should have reached the very ends of the world, should have reached the land of the Indians, and some have crossed the Ocean and reached the Isles of Britain, all this I for my part will not admit to be the work of mere men, far less of poor and ignorant men, certainly not of deceivers and wizards.
I ask you how these pupils of a base and shifty master, who had seen His end, discussed with one another how they should invent a story about Him which would hang together? For they all with one voice bore witness that He cleansed lepers, drove out demons, raised the dead to life, caused the blind to see, and worked many other cures on the sick—-and to crown all they agreed in saying that He had been seen alive after His death first by them. If these events had not taken place in their time, and if the tale had not yet been told, how could they have witnessed to them unanimously, and guaranteed their evidence by their death, unless at some time or other they had met together, made a conspiracy with the same intent, and come to an agreement with one another with regard to their lies and inventions about what had never taken place? What speech shall we suppose was made at their covenant? Perhaps it was something like this:
“Dear friends, you and I are of all men the best-informed with regard to the character of him, the deceiver and master of deceit of yesterday, whom we have all seen undergo the extreme penalty, inasmuch as we were initiated into his mysteries. He appeared a holy man to the people, and yet his aims were selfish beyond those of the people, and he has done nothing great, or worth a resurrection, if one leaves out of account the craft and guile of his disposition, and the crooked teaching he gave us and its vain deceit. In return for which, come, let us join hands, and all together make a compact to carry to all men a tale of deceit in which we all agree, and let us say that we have seen him bestow sight on the blind, which none of us ever heard he did, and giving hearing to the deaf, which none of us ever heard tell of: (let us say) he cured lepers, and raised the dead. To put it in a word, we must insist that he really did and said what we never saw him do, or heard him say. But since his last end was a notorious and well-known death, as we cannot disguise the fact, yet we can slip out even of this difficulty by determination, if quite shamelessly we bear witness that he joined us after his resurrection from the dead, and shared our usual home and food. Let us all be impudent and determined, and let us see that our freak lasts even to death. There is nothing ridiculous in dying for nothing at all. And why should we dislike for no good reason undergoing scourging and bodily torture, and if need be to experience imprisonment, dishonour, and insult for what is untrue? Let us now make this our business. We will tell the same falsehoods, and invent stories that will benefit nobody, neither ourselves, nor those we deceive, nor him who is deified by our lies. And we will extend our lies not only to men of our own race, but go forth to all men, and fill the whole world with our fabrications about him. And then let us lay down laws for all the nations in direct opposition to the opinions they have held for ages about their ancestral gods. Let us bid the Romans first of all not to worship the gods their forefathers recognized. Let us pass over into Greece, and oppose the teaching of their wise men. Let us not neglect the Egyptians, but declare war on their gods, not going back to Moses’ deeds against them of old time for our weapons, but arraying against them our Master’s death, to scare them; so we will destroy the faith in the gods which from immemorial time has gone forth to all men, not by words and argument, but by the power of our Master Crucified.
Let us go to other foreign lands, and overturn all their institutions. None of us must fail in zeal; for it is no petty contest that we dare, and no common prizes lie before us—-but most likely the punishments inflicted according to the laws of each land: bonds, of course, torture, imprisonment, fire and sword, and wild beasts. We must greet them all with enthusiasm, and meet evil bravely, having our Master as our model. For what could be finer than to make both gods and men our enemies for no reason at all, and to have no enjoyment of any kind, to have no profit of our dear ones, to make no money, to have no hope of anything good at all, but just to be deceived and to deceive without aim or object? This is our prize, to go straight in the teeth of all the nations, to war on the gods that have been acknowledged by them all for ages, to say that our Master, who (was crucified) before our very eyes was God, and to represent Him as God’s Son, for Whom we are ready to die, though we know we have learned from Him nothing either true or useful. Yes, that is the reason we must honour Him the more—-His utter uselessness to us—-we must strain every nerve to glorify His name, undergo all insults and punishments, and welcome every form of death for the sake of a lie. Perhaps truth is the same thing as evil, and falsehood must then be the opposite of evil. So let us say that He raised the dead, cleansed lepers, drove out daemons, and did many other marvellous works, knowing all the time that He did nothing of the kind, while we invent everything for ourselves, and deceive those we can. And suppose we convince nobody, at any rate we shall have the satisfaction of drawing down upon ourselves, in return for our inventions, the retribution for our deceit.”
Now is all this plausible? Does such an account have the ring of truth? Can any one persuade himself that poor and unlettered men could make up such stories, and form a conspiracy to invade the Roman Empire? Or that human nature, whose characteristic clement is self-preservation, would ever be able for the sake of nothing at all to undergo a voluntary death? (or) that our Saviour’s disciples reached such a pitch of madness, that, though they had never seen Him work miracles, they with one consent invented many, and having heaped together a mass of lying words about Him were ready to suffer death to uphold them? What is that you suggest? That they never looked forward to or expected to suffer anything unpleasant because of their witness to Jesus, and so they had no fear in going forth to preach about Him? What, you think it unlikely, that men who announced to Romans, Greeks, and Barbarians the total rout of their gods, would expect to undergo extreme sufferings on behalf of their Master? At least the record about them is clear in shewing, that after the Master’s death they were taken by plotters, who first imprisoned them, and afterwards released them, bidding them speak to none about the Name of Jesus. And discovering that after this they had publicly discussed the questions about Him before the multitude, they took them in charge and scourged them as a punishment for their teaching. It was then Peter answered them, and said: “It is right to obey God rather than men.” [[Acts v. 29.]] And after this Stephen was stoned to death for boldly addressing the Jewish populace, and an extraordinary persecution arose against those who preached in Jesus’ Name.
And who would not admire them, cut off by their divine philosophy even from lawful nuptials, not dragged in the train of sensual pleasure, not enslaved by the desire of children and descendants, since they did not yearn for mortal but immortal progeny? And who would not be astonished at their indifference to money, certified by their not turning from but welcoming a Master, Who forbade the possession of gold and silver, Whose law did not even allow the acquisition of a second coat? Why, any one only hearing such a law might reject it as too heavy, but these men are shewn to have carried out the words in fact. For once, when a lame man was begging from Peter’s companions (it was a man in extreme need who begged for food), Peter, not having anything to give him, confessed that he had no belongings in silver or gold, and said: (119) “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I unto thee: In the Name of Jesus Christ, arise and walk.” [[Acts iii. 6.]]
When the Master gave them gloomy prophecies, if they gave heed to the things He said to them: “Ye shall have tribulation,” [[John xvi. 33.]] and again: “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice” [[John xvi. 20]]—-the strength and depth of their nature is surely plain, since they did not fear the discipline of the body, nor run after pleasures. And the Master also, as One Who would not soothe them by deceit Himself, was like them in renouncing His property, and in His prophecy of the future, so open and so true, fixed in their minds the choice of His way of life. These were (b) the prophecies of what would happen to them for His Name’s sake—-in which He bore witness, saying that they should be brought before rulers, and come even unto kings, and undergo all sorts of punishments, not for any fault, nor on any reasonable charge, but solely for this—-His Name’s sake. And we who see it now fulfilled ought to be struck by the prediction; for the confession of the Name of Jesus ever inflames the minds of rulers. And (c) though he who confesses Christ has done no evil, yet they punish him with every contumely “for His Name’s sake,” as the worst of evil-doers, while if a man swears away the Name, and denies that he is one of Christ’s disciples, he is let off scot-free, though he be convicted of many crimes. But why need I attempt to describe further the character of our Saviour’s disciples? Let what I have said suffice to prove my contention. I will add a few words (d) more, and then pass to another class of slanderers.
The Apostle Matthew, if you consider his former life, did not leave a holy occupation, but came from those occupied in tax-gathering and over-reaching one another. [[Luke v. 27: Mark]] None of the evangelists has made this clear, neither his fellow-apostle John, nor Luke, nor Mark, but [[Matthew ii. 14.]] himself, who brands his own life, and becomes his own accuser. Listen how he dwells emphatically on his own name in the Gospel written by him, when he speaks in this way:
(120) “9. And as Jesus passed by from thence, he saw a man, called Matthew, sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. 10. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.” [[Matt.ix.9.]]
And again further on, when he gives a list of the disciples, he adds the name “Publican” to his own. For he says:
(b) “Of the twelve apostles the names are these: First, Simon, called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican.” [[Matt. x.2-3.]]
Thus Matthew, in excess of modesty, reveals the nature of his own old life, and calls himself a publican, he does not conceal his former mode of life, and in addition to this he places himself second after his yoke-fellow. For he is paired with Thomas, Peter with Andrew, James with John, and Philip with Bartholomew, and he puts Thomas before himself, preferring his fellow-apostle to himself, while the (c) other evangelists have done the reverse. If you listen to Luke, you will not hear him calling Matthew a publican, nor subordinating him to Thomas, for he knows him to be the greater, and puts him first and Thomas second. Mark has done the same. Luke’s words are as follows:
“And when it was day, he called his disciples unto him, and chose twelve whom he also named apostles, Simon whom he also called Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, and Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas.” [[Luke vi.13]]
So Luke honoured Matthew, according to what they delivered, who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word. And you would find John like Matthew. For in his epistles he never mentions his own |139 name, or call himself the Elder, or Apostle, or Evangelist; and in the Gospel, though he declares himself as the one whom Jesus loved, he does not reveal himself by name. Neither did Peter permit himself to write a Gospel through his excessive reverence. Mark, being his friend and companion, is said to have recorded the accounts of Peter about the acts of Jesus, and when he comes to that part of the story where Jesus asked whom men said that He was, and what opinion His disciples had of Him, and Peter had replied that they regarded Him as (the) Christ, he writes that Jesus answered nothing, and said naught to him, except that He charged them to say nothing to any one about Him.
For Mark was not present when Jesus spoke those words; and Peter did not think it right to bring forward on his own testimony what was said to him and concerning him by Jesus. But Matthew tells us what was actually said to him, in these words:
“15. But whom say ye that I am? 16. And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood have not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18. And I also say unto thee. That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19. And I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever things thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever things thou shall loose on earth shall be [[Matt. xvi.15]] loosed in heaven.”
Though all this was said to Peter by Jesus, Mark does not record it, because, most likely, Peter did not include it in his teaching—-see what he says in answer to Jesus’ question: “Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ. And [[Mark viii.29.]] he straitly charged them that they should tell no man.” About this event Peter for good reasons thought it best to keep silence. And so Mark also omitted it, though he made known to all men Peter’s denial, and how he wept about it bitterly. You will find Mark gives this account of him:
“66. And as Peter was in the court, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest;. and when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. 68. But he denied saying (I know not) neither understand what thou sayest; and he went into the outside porch, and the cock crew.. And the maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them.. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak.. And the second time the cock crew.” [[Mark xiv.66.]]
Mark writes thus, and Peter through him bears witness about himself. For the whole of Mark’s Gospel is said to be the record of Peter’s teaching. Surely, then, men who refused (to record) what seemed to them to spread their good fame, and handed down in writing slanders against themselves to unforgetting ages, and accusations of sins, which no one in after years would ever have known of unless he had heard it from their own voice, by thus placarding themselves, may justly be considered to have (b) been void of all egoism and false speaking, and to have given plain and clear proof of their truth-loving disposition. And as for such people who think they invented and lied, and try to slander them as deceivers, ought they not to become a laughing-stock, being convicted as friends of envy and malice, and foes of truth itself, who take men that have exhibited in their own words good proof of their integrity, and their really straightforward and sincere (c) character, and suggest that they are rascals and clever sophists, who invent what never took place, and ascribe gratuitously to their own Master what He never did?
I think then it has been well said: “One must put complete confidence in the disciples of Jesus, or none at all.” And if we are to distrust these men, we must distrust all writers, who at any time have compiled, either in Greece or other lands, lives and histories and records of men of their own times, celebrated for noble achievements, or else we should be considering it reasonable to believe others, (d) and to disbelieve them only. And this would be clearly invidious. What! Did these liars about their Master, who handed down in writing the deeds He never did, also falsify the account of His Passion? I mean His betrayal by one of His disciples, the accusation of the false witnesses, the insults and the blows on His face, the scourging of His back, and the crown of acanthus set on His head in contumely, the soldier’s purple coat thrown round Him like a cloak, and finally His bearing the very trophy of the Cross, His being nailed to it, His hands and feet pierced, His being given vinegar to drink, struck on the cheek with a reed, and reviled by those who looked on. Were these things and everything like them in the Gospels, also invented by the disciples, or must we disbelieve in the glorious and more dignified parts, and yet believe in these as in truth itself? And how can the opposite opinion be supported? For to say that the same men both speak the truth, and at the same time lie, is nothing else but predicating contraries about the same people at the same time.
What, then, is the disproof? That if it was their aim to deceive, and to adorn their Master with false words, they would never have written the above accounts, neither would they have revealed to posterity that He was pained and (b) troubled and disturbed in spirit, that they forsook Him and fled, or that Peter, the apostle and disciple who was chief of them all, denied Him thrice though untortured and unthreatened by rulers. For surely if their aim was solely to present the more dignified side of their Master they would have had to deny the truth of such things, even when stated by others. And if their good faith is evident in (c) their gloomier passages about Him, it is far more so in the more glorious. For they who had once adopted the policy of lying would have the more shunned the painful side, and either passed it over in silence, or denied it, for no man in an after age would be able to prove that they had omitted them.
Why, then, did they not lie, and say that Judas who betrayed Him with a kiss, when he dared to give the sign of treachery, was at once turned into a stone? and that the man who dared to strike Him had his right hand at once dried up; and that the high priest Caiaphas, as he conspired with the false witnesses against Him, lost the (d) sight of his eyes? And why did they not all tell the lie that nothing disastrous happened to Him at all, but that He vanished laughing at them from the court, and that they who plotted against Him, the victims of an hallucination divinely sent, thought they were proceeding against Him still though He was no longer present? But what? Would it not have been more impressive, instead of making up these inventions of His miraculous deeds, to have written that He experienced nothing of the lot of human beings or mortals, but that after having settled all things with power (124) divine He returned to heaven with diviner glory? For, of course, those who believed their other accounts would have believed this.
And surely they who have set no false stamp on anything that is true in the incidents of shame and gloom, ought to be regarded as above suspicion in other accounts wherein they have attributed miracles to Him. Their evidence then may be considered sufficient about our (b) Saviour. And here it will not be inappropriate for me to make use of the evidence of the Hebrew Josephus as well, who in the eighteenth chapter of The Archaeology of the Jews, in his record of the times of Pilate, mentions our Saviour in these words:
“And Jesus arises at that time, a wise man, if it is befitting to call him a man. For he was a doer of no common works, a teacher of men who reverence truth. And he gathered many of the Jewish and many of the Greek race. This was Christus; and when Pilate (c) condemned him to the Cross on the information of our rulers, his first followers did not cease to revere him. For he appeared to them the third day alive again, the divine prophets having foretold this, and very many other things about him. And from that time to this the tribe of the Christians has not failed.”
If, then, even the historian’s evidence shews that He attracted to Himself not only the twelve Apostles, nor the seventy disciples, but had in addition many Jews and Greeks, He must evidently have had some extraordinary power beyond that of other men. For how otherwise could (d) He have attracted many Jews and Greeks, except by wonderful miracles and unheard-of teaching? And the evidence of the Acts of the Apostles goes to shew that there were many myriads of Jews who believed Him to be the Christ of God foretold by the prophets. And history also assures us that there was a very important Christian Church in Jerusalem, composed of Jews, which existed until the siege of the city under Hadrian. The bishops, too, who stand first in the line of succession there are said to have been Jews, whose names are still remembered by the inhabitants. So that thus the whole slander against His disciples is destroyed, when by their evidence, and apart also from their evidence, it has to be confessed that many myriads of Jews and Greeks were brought under His yoke by Jesus the Christ of God through the miracles that He performed.
Such being my answer to the first division of the unbelievers, now let us address ourselves to the second body. This consists of those, who while they admit that Jesus worked miracles, say that it was by a species of sorcery that deceived those who looked on, like a magician or enchanter. He impressed them with wonder…