The Spread of Early Christianity as Proof of God and the Truth of the Christian Revelation

Here’s another selection from James Harris Fairchild’s Elements Of Theology, Natural And Revealed. In this selection Harris briefly presents the argument for the existence of God and the truth of the Christian revelation from the spread of early Christianity. In sum, “The great fact that Christianity starting from Judea spread over all the Western world and changed the whole tide of history requires as an explanation such events as those which the Gospels record.”


When we come to contemporary historians we find comparatively little light upon Jesus and the apostles. Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny the younger in the latter half the first century and the first of the second briefly refer to the Christians as a “mischievous sect.” Suetonius speaks of them as punished by Nero. Tacitus does the same and speaks of “Chrestus” the founder of the sect as put to death in Judea by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Pliny was governor of Pontus in Asia Minor and found Christians around him in great numbers. He wrote an account of them to Trajan asking what he should do with them. He describes their habits of worship as he had learned them from those who had renounced Christianity. “On a certain day of the week they gathered together before the rising of the sun and sung a hymn to Christ as to a God. At a later hour they gathered again and took a simple meal together and took an oath together not to commit any crime but to abstain from all crimes as theft, robbery, adultery.”

Josephus, a Jew associated with the Roman generals that made the conquest of the Holy Land and destroyed Jerusalem, must have known something of Christ and of Christians. But the only paragraph in his writings that speaks of Christ is generally supposed to be spurious: “Now there was about this time Jesus a wise man if it be lawful to call him a man for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate at the suggestion of the principal men among us had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at first did not forsake him for he appeared to them alive again the third day as the divine prophets had foretold these and a thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.” Those who regard this passage from Josephus as spurious do it on the assumption that if he had been willing to say so much of Christ and Christians he would have said more. Thus written history gives us little light.

But the great fact that Christianity starting from Judea spread over all the Western world and changed the whole tide of history requires as an explanation such events as those which the Gospels record. Christendom proves the historical reality of Christ and confirms the New Testament history. Whence came that change upon the world from paganism and Judaism to Christianity? If we had no New Testament history we should be obliged to assume essentially the facts which that history presents. The Gospels explain Christendom: its origin, its extension, its institutions and monuments, and its entire history. Aside from these there is no explanation and can be none.

Suggestion has sometimes been made that the books produced Christendom. This is impossible; fiction has no such power. The books and Christendom alike sprung from the facts, from the history. The New Testament then is historically true and Christianity is the true religion divinely set forth in the person and teaching and work of Jesus Christ. Nothing more can be needed to vindicate the historical reality of Christ and the essential truthfulness of the Gospels. Judaism and the Jews sustain a similar relation to the Old Testament. The existence of the Jews to day with their ideas and traditions is proof of the Old Testament; that history is the only explanation of their existence. The land of Palestine is the “tenter bar” [a bar used for stretching cloth by hand] to which this double web of history fits. The books and the land belong together.