From the Wikipedia page:

Origen responds to Celsus's accusation that Jesus had performed his miracles using magic rather than divine powers by asserting that, unlike magicians, Jesus had not performed his miracles for show, but rather to reform his audiences.

This seems like a rather bizarre explanation as intent doesn't necessarily have correlation to the method of the act. It doesn't logically follow. This leads me to think that the source that the Wikipedia is citing (Trigg 1983, p. 229 and Olson 1999, p. 103) might've butchered Origen's argument and Origen's intent.

As such, my question is: What did Origen mean in this explanation? Is there more to this argument (to be more clear, Origen's argument against Celsus' accusation of Chrisst using black magic)?

  • If magic is real, then Jesus would be the author of it, and as the author of it, He would have exclusive authority to access those off-limit potentials that nobody else can and the purity and loving heart to ensure that nothing ill comes of it. So Celsus's argument presupposes that Jesus was just an ordinary man, which is a false presupposition.
    – Fomalhaut
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 7:31
  • @HolyKnowledge A common argument states that he was divine because he was able to perform miracles, resurrect, etc. Celsus attacks this and says that magicians like the ones in Ancient Egypt can use necromancy magic, and also perform miracles, etc. and so that's not a good proof for his divinity. I think you might be begging the question here but thats not too important. Oh and also, just like testimonies of the resurrection are often used as proof, so too can testimonies of Egyptian magic be used as proof. So it becomes a lot more difficult to prove his alleged divinity.
    – setszu
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 19:02

1 Answer 1


No need to consult Wikipedia when one has Olson's book, from which only a partial quote is given above, from his whole chapter on Origen. Pages 99 to 112 are headed, 'Origen of Alexandria Leaves a Troubling Legacy' but not with regard to his response to Celsus on this point in question. Let me give more fulsome quotes to show what Olson was pointing out.

"He took on the Roman philosopher Celsus, who was attacking Christianity as ignorant and superstitious, in a devastating response to On the True Doctrine titled Contra Celsum, or Against Celsus. More than any other single Christian apology, this book of Origen's defeated a Goliath of opposition to Christianity and ushered the young religion into a new age of respectability in spite of continuing persecution.

Origen's aim in his writing career was 'to provide Christians who raise intellectual problems with answers in accordance with Scripture, so that they do not go and seek them in great gnostic sects.' [Henri Crouzel, Origen, trans. A.S. Worrall (San Fransisco: Harper & Row, 1989) p.14] He was apparently quite successful...

He left an ambiguous legacy of both intellectual greatness, and confusion for later Christian thinkers to wrestle with. On the one hand, his profound arguments and insights helped the educated classes of the Roman Empire take a view of Christianity different from Celsus's. They began to look upon Christianity as a viable philosophical and religious alternative to the numerous competing visions of reality and spiritualities within the empire. On the other hand, Origen's explanations of Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and person of Jesus Christ set the stage for great controversy one hundred years after his death." The Story of Christian Theology pp 101 & 102, Roger E. Olson, Inter-Varsity Press, 1999.

Having set the scene with a balanced view of Origen, Olson then deals with the question raised here.

"Against Celsus, then, Origen claimed that Christian truth is not completely in conflict with Greek philosophy at every point but that it rises higher in its concepts and especially in its ability to identify a particular historical manifestation of the divine goodness , Jesus Christ. A typical example of Origen's refutation of Celsus is his response to the latter's claim that Jesus Christ was merely a magician like many others and not God, as Christians claim. To Celsus, Origen replied,

'There would indeed be a resemblance between them, if Jesus, like the dealers in magical arts, had performed His works only for show; but now there is not a single juggler who, by means of his proceedings, invites his spectators to reform their manners, or trains those to the fear of God who are amazed at what they see, nor who tries to persuade them so to live as men who are justified by God.' [Origen, Against Celsus, p. 68]

"In the final analysis, Origen appealed to the historical fact of Jesus' resurrection, to the lives and deaths of the apostles, and above all to 'the manifestation of the Spirit and power' in the entire history of the people of God as proof of the truth of Christianity. It is apparent that for Origen there was no single proof or argument that by itself would sweep away Celsus's objections and skepticism. It was rather a series of ideas and facts that, woven together, constituted a strong case for Christianity's truth and superiority over the Greek and Roman philosophies and mythologies. At the end of Contra Celsum one has the sense that Origen has at least raised Christianity to an intellectual level alongside Celsus's 'true doctrine' (Greek philosophy) and made it impossible from then on for anyone to declare Christianity a folk religion fit only for the ignorant and superstitious." (Ibid, p. 102) [bold italics mine]

This helps answer the question: What did Origen mean in this explanation? Is there more to this argument? What he said about Christ working miracles to reform [not his audience, in general, but his followers in particular] was but one strand in his whole argument about just who Christ is. Yes, there was a lot more to his argument than just that one point. I hope this helps set Olson's explanation in context.

  • Thank you for your reply. But this doesn't really answer my question as I was specifically asking about Origen's argument pertaining magic. 2/3s of your answer are about setting the context of Origen which I was already familiar with, and I know that all the arguments here are interconnected but I don't think that it constitutes as good proof. Regarding magic, the author is basically saying what I quoted which doesn't really explain properly what Origen was phrasing because the same issues that I brought up remain - e.g. he could've been the first one to use magic for such a purpose. But thx!
    – setszu
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 18:59
  • @setszu Ah, thanks for clarifying. I now see your added final sentence. All I can say is that Origen used various strands to weave his argument for Christ not merely being a man who practiced black magic. Origen was refuting Gnostic beliefs, and that cannot be done simply by showing Christ did not profiteer from his miracles, but that they helped sincere seekers to be reformed by the grace of God. Origen knew the account in Acts 8 about Simon the sorcerer but I don't know if he appealed to that or not.
    – Anne
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 5:55
  • 1
    A ok, thank you though!
    – setszu
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 6:12

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