The previous post in this series may be found here.
Theophilus concludes his defense and advocacy of Christianity by an appeal to (1) its historical veracity; and (2) its antiquity.
He begins this section of the argument as follows:
But I wish now to give you a more accurate demonstration, God helping me, of the historical periods, that you may see that our doctrine is not modern nor fabulous, but more ancient and true than all poets and authors who have written in uncertainty. For some, maintaining that the world was uncreated, went into infinity;1 and others, asserting that it was created, said that already 153, 075 years had passed.
1 i.e., tracing back its history through an infinate duration.
Theophilus of Antioch, “Theophilus to Autolycus,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 116.
Theophilus then works through the then-current theories on the age of the earth, and various events (he spends much time comparing various understandings of the time of the Flood and also the Israelites in Egypt). In each case, he contends that the Biblical understanding of the time period and events is correct.
First, he goes the basis for the biblical positions:
It behoved, therefore, that he should the rather become a scholar of God in this matter of legislation, as he himself confessed that in no other way could he gain accurate information than by God’s teaching him through the law. And did not the poets Homer and Hesiod and Orpheus profess that they themselves had been instructed by Divine Providence? Moreover, it is said that among your writers there were prophets and prognosticators, and that those wrote accurately: who were informed by them. How much more, then, shall we know the truth who are instructed by the holy prophets, who were possessed by the Holy Spirit of God! On this account all the prophets spoke harmoniously and in agreement with one another, and foretold the things that would come to pass in all the world.
Theophilus of Antioch, 116. That is, since they demonstrated the divine nature of their speech by means of predictive prophecy and coherence in doctrine, they should be trusted when they speak of other things which are far more debated (the ancient history of the world).
He compares the biblical accounts with the accounts of poets and philosophers; for instance:
From what has already been said, it is evident that they who wrote such things and philosophized to so little purpose are miserable, and very profane and senseless persons. But Moses, our prophet and the servant of God, in giving an account of the genesis of the world, related in what manner the flood came upon the earth, telling us, besides, how the details of the flood came about, and relating no fable of Pyrrha nor of Deucalion or Clymenus; nor, forsooth, that only the plains were submerged, and that those only who escaped to the mountains were saved.
Theophilus of Antioch, 116. He then compares the ages of the events set forth in the Bible with the dates for various Greek law givers and poets; and notes that the Biblical account begins before Greek history. This is a relative sort of argument. He does not try to argue that the Biblical accounts go earlier than every other potential account — just earlier than the Greek accounts:
These periods, then, and all the above-mentioned facts, being viewed collectively, one can see the antiquity of the prophetical writings and the divinity of our doctrine, that the doctrine is not recent, nor our tenets mythical and false, as some think, but very ancient and true.
Theophilus of Antioch, 120. He concludes thus
But the Greeks make no mention of the histories which give the truth: first, because they themselves only recently became partakers of the knowledge of letters; and they themselves own it, alleging that letters were invented, some say among the Chaldæans, and others with the Egyptians, and others again say that they are derived from the Phœnicians. And secondly, because they sinned, and still sin, in not making mention of God, but of vain and useless matters. For thus they most heartily celebrate Homer and Hesiod, and the rest of the poets, but the glory of the incorruptible and only God they not only omit to mention, but blaspheme; yes, and they persecuted, and do daily persecute, those who worship Him. And not only so, but they even bestow prizes and honours on those who in harmonious language insult God; but of those who are zealous in the pursuit of virtue and practise a holy life, some they stoned, some they put to death, and up to the present time they subject them to savage tortures. Wherefore such men have necessarily lost the wisdom of God, and have not found the truth.
Theophilus of Antioch, 121. The relative argument is appropriate here, because he is merely contending against a particular man in a particular place. He is not attempting to respond to every possible argument, but he is responding to a particular argument. Why would anyone abandon Helenic Religion and Philosophy for Christianity:
Since, then, my friend, you have assailed me with empty words, boasting of your gods of wood and stone, hammered and cast, carved and graven, which neither see nor hear, for they are idols, and the works of men’s hands; and since, besides, you call me a Christian, as if this were a damning name to bear, I, for my part, avow that I am a Christian,1 and bear this name beloved of God, hoping to be serviceable2 to God. For it is not the case, as you suppose, that the name of God is hard to bear; but possibly you entertain this opinion of God, because you are yourself yet unserviceable to Him.
Theophilus of Antioch, 89. His argument has been to clarify what Christians do believe; and to demonstrate the immorality and absurdity of Greek thought; the elevation of Biblical thought; its morality and antiquity. This argument was antiquity was important in apologetics for the early church. For instance, Clement of Alexandria makes a detailed argument based upon the antiquity of Christianity:
On the plagiarizing of the dogmas of the philosophers from the Hebrews, we shall treat a little afterwards. But first, as due order demands, we must now speak of the epoch of Moses, by which the philosophy of the Hebrews will be demonstrated beyond all contradiction to be the most ancient of all wisdom.
Clement of Alexandria, “The Stromata, or Miscellanies,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 324. The idea that the Bible explains the antiquity of original revelation — and a corruption of that revelation as it spreads throughout human history is not merely an argument of the early church, but is a matter of current concern:
In arguing for a revelatory ‘single-source’ theory as to both the theological and historical origin of religion and the religions, does the Urgeschichte provide us with any more detail or explanatory ‘mechanism’ as to the pattern of religion that begins with an original divine disclosure but that, due to human sin, and without divine preservation, ends in a derivative religious degeneration and decay as God ‘gives people over’ to idolatry?
Strange, Daniel. Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions (pp. 121-122). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. Tracing out that argument is well beyond this post. For now, we only note that the argument from antiquity — with an implicit element of corruption/derivation (Clement’s “plagiarizing”) is still a current concern.