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Christianity is identical with the religion of the patriarchs

Dan Hames eats patristics for breakfast, that's why he glows with an ancient and other-worldly glory.

He passed this onto me today from his studies in Eusebius.  This is from Timothy D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 1981, p. 126–127

'Christianity, for Eusebius, was not a new religion but the primeval religion from which the traditional religions of mankind were mere offshoots or declensions.  The Christ who was crucified in the reign of Tiberius was the Divine Word, the Son of God, the Wisdom of God, the Light of the World, the first and only-begotten Son of God.  He was, in philosophical terms, the second cause and hence partner with God the Father in the creation of the universe and its inhabitants.  Since the dawn of history, the human race has been divided into two classes.  The righteous and reverent (who included Abraham and the Jewish patriarchs, Moses and the prophets) have always worshipped the Son of God, who has acted as a mediator between God and man, instructing the pious in the knowledge of his Father by the theophanies which the Old Testament records.

'The majority of the ancients, however, neither worshipped the Son of God nor originally possessed the capacity to receive his teachings.  Adam disobeyed God, forfeited a life of blessedness and delight, and was condemned to a mortal and accursed existence.  Adam's immediate descendants filled the earth and, with few exceptions, lived no better than beasts: they had no care for political organization, for law and morality, for intellectual activity, but lived as nomads.  Their self-inflicted wickedness destroyed their natural reason, and they indulged in all types of unholiness, even preparing to go to way with their creator.  God therefore chastised them with floods, fires, famines, plagues, and wars.  Yet, when mankind was sunk in a drunken torpor of wickedness, the Word of God appeared to some of the ancient worshipers of God, who planted the seeds of godliness on the earth and soon made a whole nation devoted to godliness.  They were the ancient Hebrews, on whom God enjoined, through the prophet Moses, religious practices which were the images and symbols of a spiritual reality not yet clearly revealed.  The laws of Moses became widely known and had a gradually civilizing effect throughout the world.  Hence, when the Roman empire came into existence, the whole world, including the gentiles, was ready to receive knowledge of the Father.  The Word of God, therefore, appeared on earth as the savior of all mankind.  His birth, life, miracles, teaching, death, and resurrection had all been predicted exactly by Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament, who even revealed, to those who could read the Bible aright, that the incarnate Word would be called Jesus Christ...

'The Christian religion, therefore, Eusebius holds, is not novel or strange...  Christianity is identical with the religion of the patriarchs, and the worshippers of God from Adam to Abraham were Christian in all but name...

Thus Christianity is the most ancient and most venerable of all religions: accepted of old by Abraham and the patriarchs, now proclaimed to all mankind through the teaching of Christ, Christianity is the original, the only, the true way to worship God.'

0 thoughts on “Christianity is identical with the religion of the patriarchs

  1. Steve

    Patristics for breakfast is definitely a healthy diet!

    "The righteous and reverent (who included Abraham and the Jewish patriarchs, Moses and the prophets) have always worshipped the Son of God, who has acted as a mediator between God and man, instructing the pious in the knowledge of his Father by the theophanies which the Old Testament records."


    I wanted to blog about this! :(

  2. andyharker

    I've been interested for some time in researching on this idea that "the traditional religions of mankind were mere offshoots or declensions" of the one true religion (or anti-religion). I'm aware that it was an important argument for the early Christian apologists. Could you or your patristic-eating friends advise me on the most important texts in the patristics on this issue and more recent writings on the same idea?

  3. Dan Hames

    Hi Andy,

    The thing to look at first off is Justin Martyr's first Apology. Also Irenaeus' Against Heresies touches on this. Then Eusebius, obviously. It's a key argument of the early apologists that Christianity isn't novel or an innovation, as in the Roman empire the new was considered with real suspicion, while the old established and tested was held in high esteem.

  4. John B

    Eusebius is great on this. But I'd like to find something similar from the early church fathers who are more consistently orthodox. Eusebius was a brilliant scholar, but his support of Arius and opposition to Athanasius makes it difficult to appeal to him as a stand alone authoritative Patristic source. With Eusebius you get Origen as well, and therefore a lot that is very speculative. Is there an early church Doctor, or two, in the house?

  5. Si Hollett

    John, have you got your Eusebiuses muddled up? There's two at about the same time - one the historian (of Caeserea) that loved Origen, thought Constantine was brilliant and was a bit iffy theologically (Reeves on Athanasius has him as "moderate yeh" Eusebius, which gets for being a good historian) and the other guy (of Nicomedia) that loved Arius, baptisted Constantine and was really awful theologically (Reeves has him as "boo hiss" Eusebius).

    Eusebius of Caeserea has his problems, but if he was ever opposed to Athanasius and Nicea, it would only be because Eusebius of Nicomedia had corrupted the emperor that EoC couldn't stop pouring praise on. He'd have been for Nicea, though certainly much of his love for it would have been because Constantine had called the council.

  6. andyharker

    Thanks for all of this guys. I'm learning! Do you know if any of these early fathers or anyone more recently actually tried to argue empirically/historically (rather than theologically/philosophically) that specific religions (e.g. Greco-Roman or ancient Egyptian or Hinduism) are 'offshoots or declensions' of biblical religion/revelation?

  7. Steve

    Hi Andy - Glen is right - that William Haslam stuff is great!

    Related but maybe not exactly what you are looking for is the Gospel in Genesis in the Chinese language. It shows that ancient Chinese language incorporated the Gospel contained in Genesis. Check it out:

    More comprehensive here:

    I've yet to find an article that is really good on it. I might try to do one myself at some point.

  8. John B

    Hi Si,

    The Eusebiusi get confusing at times. I'm thinking of the one from Caesarea here. I like him a lot, as I do his grand-mentor Origen. Both were often brilliant, as Eusebius is in the citations that Barnes has made in his book. My only issue with EofC is that I'd like to find more solidly orthodox support to back up what he's said so well here. EofC wasn't Arian; he was a strong supporter of Arius and an anti-anti-Arian; a big church unity guy in his day. (I'm not so broadminded as he.) In any case, in discussions with those who hold the Patristic witness to be very persuasive, EofC, while interesting, won't hold nearly as much weight as an early Doctor like Athanasius, whom both Bishops Eusebius participated in condemning and sending into exile.

  9. Cat

    Glen, I quoted some of this on twitter and it got me into an interesting discussion... one question being -
    "to throw out progressive revelation is a pretty big rejection of orthodox theology...and can we have saving faith in Christ without a knowledge of the cross?"

    I think I have an answer... but wondered what you thought?

  10. Glen

    Lol - that be one heavy tweet!

    A) What do we mean by prog rev? If it's just that more stuff has been revealed by Malachi than Exodus - who could or would deny that?? No-one's throwing that out. But if "prog rev" means a progression from Messiah-less faith to Messiah-full faith then it's the orthodoxy of this kind of prog rev that is in question.

    B) If "Orthodoxy" is agreed on anything it's that the object of saving faith is Christ.

    C) Right from Gen 3:15 the cross is revealed - the Seed will be struck.

    Bandying about "rejection of orthodox theology" on a tweet seems a bit rich to me!

  11. Simulator

    Go Cat go! Denying that Christ was known by those in the Old Testament and were saved/justified/counted righteous by faith in Him alone - it's this that is a rejection of orthodoxy! And in case you ever have a discussion with an Anglican, it's a denial of the 39 Articles:
    "The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises." Article VII
    It does seem that according to this Article, anyone who says that the Old Testament Christians only trusted in promises instead of explicitly in Christ, are to be treated specifically as heretics whom you must not listen to!

  12. Steve

    Cat - I actually LOL'ed when I read what you have been tweeting! Brilliant!

    Andy - I just remembered another thing for you. In the back of the Companion Bible, Bullinger says that the gods of ancient Greece are explained by Genesis 6 - i.e. that these gods were powerful, running around fighting each other and causing trouble in general, having children by human women e.g. Hercules - the son of Zeus (a god) and Alcamene (a human women). These half-breed offspring then had super-attributes and abilities. Rings quite a bell with the phrase of Genesis 6:4 'They were the heroes of old, men of renown'.


  13. andyharker

    Thanks guys - this is really useful stuff. And I love that Article VII. All reminds me of Paul's apologetic to Agrippa (Acts 26). I wonder whether we can be too hard and fast in distinguishing promise and substance? Is not that we receive Christ by receiving his promises/words? Can we say that Christ is communicated to us (and in times past) through his promises received by faith?

  14. woldeyesus

    A religion in regression into the written law (such as Christianity) has absolutely nothing in common with the "new covenant" of the Spirit!
    (Jer. 31: 31-34; Matt. 26: 26-29; 27: 50-56)

  15. Cat

    Thanks for your encouragements! The convo on twitter is still going on. Its quite interesting. One question thrown up after I asked -" well maybe the question is can we hv saving faith without Christ? How were the OT ppl saved, thru Christ or not?"

    the question that was asked me after was:

    "if Abram was saved w/o the cross, Is it still possible for someone to be saved by meeting Jesus but not understanding the cross?"

    Not sure what "understaning the cross" means? And if anyone has a way to answer this question, for some reason I feel like I am going to be trapped but not sure how... mmm?

    Do have a look at the twitter convo if that helps put it into context! Thanks!

  16. woldeyesus

    "Saving faith" is the immediate life-transformative effect of God's personal self-revelation, "as he really is", by whatever typical means he chooses including Christ's death on the cross.

    That is why there is incalculable power of salvation in the kind of death Jesus suffered, viz.: Spirit-active, perfect, diacritical and captivating.

    (John 12: 32-33; 14: 18-21; 19: 30-37).

  17. Chris Oldfield

    Cat: best Jim Packer quote ever: "‘what the NT calls for is faith in (en) or into (eis) or upon (epi) Christ Himself – the placing of our trust in the living Saviour, who died for sins. The object of saving faith is thus not, strictly speaking, the atonement, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who made atonement.’" (evangelism & the sovereignty of God - p.74). The "saving knowledge of the cross" is a capitulation to Hodges' "saving facts", and wrongly separates the person & work of christ.

    Glen/Dan: I'm really interested in the comparison with the beasts. I've got a possible book idea brewing for some day in the future I think - on Spiritual Anthropology - or anthropology of spirit. Man made of dust who's known the spirit but is just like the animals. Original sin then not a sexually transmitted disease, but rather that all people born of woman since the fall have been born without the holy spirit. Inheriting flesh from adam, our souls/throats long for the breath we're made for, with which we can cry out praise: the word of the lord. Something like that, anyway, thinking an awful lot about eg what it means to be a beast/animal in the bible (eccl. 3). Could I ask you to just keep an eye out for any similar throwaway lines like that you stumble upon & send them my way?

  18. John B

    Hi Chris,

    I love your idea for the book on the "anthropology of spirit", and am very eager to read it! I'm strongly inclined to the premise that you've stated. My reluctance about it is that all of the church fathers seem to speak of the sexual transmission of original sin. For the East, it's the inheritance of an ancestral disease (death); and for the West it's hereditary guilt. As these views are more fully fleshed out, I suspect that your view may actually cohere quite well with the East. Can't wait to get your book!

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