Early Christian theologian: “I believe because it is absurd.”

“I believe because it is absurd” is a paraphrase of a statement in Tertullian’s work De Carne Christi (written between AD 203-206) “prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est”, which can be translated: “it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd”. The context is a defence of the tenets of orthodox Christianity against docetism:

Crucifixus est Dei Filius, non pudet, quia pudendum est;
et mortuus est Dei Filius, prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est;
et sepultus resurrexit, certum est, quia impossibile.
— (De Carne Christi V, 4)

“The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful.
And the Son of God died: it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.
And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.”


Tertullian has been called ‘the father of Latin Christianity’ and ‘the founder of Western theology’. He is the first to use the word “Trinity” in reference to God.

‘the Son of God died: it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.’

Muslims been saying it is absurd for years too.

Categories: Christianity, Theodicy

16 replies

  1. Clearly an ironic definition of what an ‘argumentum ad absurdum’ is.

  2. Whelp. Can’t argue with that reasoning.

  3. So basically, Tertullian would have had no problem believing that a blue guy named Krishna came down to earth to set things right and then died after being accidentally shot by an arrow. [smacks head]

  4. Read the fuller context. (see link below at ccel) Tertullian was speaking against Marcion and his theology. The roots of Marcionism and Gnosticism are the Docetism of the letter of 1 John and the denial that Jesus was a real human being, a contradiction to Islam. To embrace Marcion as Muslims is a contradiction and inconsistent way of thinking. Marcion was rejecting that the Creator God was the same as in the OT and that Yahweh of the OT was the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, the eternal Word, who was incarnated into a human being and had a real body of flesh and bones, blood, human emotions, human mind, etc. – Marcion rejected the incarnation, the virgin birth (Marcion cut out Luke chapters 1-2 completely from his version of the gospel according to Luke), the atonement, the suffering on the cross, the resurrection of Christ in a real body.

    He was saying all of these teachings are so amazing and wonderful and impossible that it has to be God who did it, so in that sense, it is “absurd”, because the human mind cannot fully grasp or comprehend it; but God who does miracles is able, therefore, it must be believed because “with men this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible”, which is what Jesus said many times in the gospels.

    Luke agrees, “touch Me and see that I have flesh and bone; a ghost does not have flesh and bone” – Luke 24:39

    The wisdom of God and the “weakness of God” (humility, condescension, becoming human, 2 natures, voluntary laying aside of use of powers and full knowledge, suffering, dying on the cross, etc.) is more powerful than the wisdom and power of man. 1 Corinthians chapters 1-2 – The God of the Bible is more powerful than the man-made “god” of Islam, for the God of the Bible can do the miraculous like the incarnation of God into humanity, the atonement (the theology of the sufferings and death of Christ for sinners from all nations – Revelation 5:9), the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the first fruits that point to the future judgment day and resurrection of believers bodies to be glorified in the eternal state with God in eternal life.


  5. Islam is the ultimate human man-made religion because it requires no miraculous or amazing or awe inspiring thinking to believe it. It is human power in harsh laws and military power and force in conquering the world and using it’s power to subjugate all others.

    Islam has an OT Monotheism (One Creator God, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, etc. ) and basic right vs. wrong family morality similar to the ten commandments, and that there is a judgment day, which takes no miracle of the supernatural to believe.

    Deism or Theism and the moral argument for God and the Cosmological / Kalaam argument and argument from design are true intuitively and Christianity has all of that AND much more.

    Islam takes no miracle to believe. Some things are goofy in the Hadith and the Qur’an, but that is because Muhammad got stuff from legends, apocryphal gospels, Midrash Jewish stories; Muhammad is just hearing things, is illiterate / uneducated, and does not know the Scriptures – he did exactly what he accused some Jews of doing in Surah 2:75 and 2:78-79.

    • @ Everyone

      I guess we can see the type of people Tertullian was able to get this bs off on.

      “Hey God makes sense, isn’t contradictory and is easily explainable so it must be false!”

      Lol as I said can’t argue with that reasoning.

      • @ Ken

        1. Christians use philosophical mumbo jumbo ALL the time to explain God so this laughable. Pretty much EVERY religion except for Islam is a bunch of bs that has its followers blindly accept.
        2. There are plenty of things we don’t understand about God in Islam hence the saying “God knows best”
        3. With that said the Message is for EVERYONE from the scholar to the simpleton and they ALL must understand who God is and what He wants.
        4. You can just see the truth and falsehood right here:

        Christianity does as the poet said:

        “God gave us brains, and God gave us logic, but I guess He wanted us to use them for everything except this topic.”

        While in Islam God says:

        Most people will go to Hell because they didn’t use their intelligence. (Surah Mulk)

  6. Yes it is absurd to the max, even Tertullian contemporary, another christian theologian Origen, for example, had an absurd conversation with a bishop named Heraclides to define the relationship of Christ to God the Father. Heraclides admitted to believing in two Gods.

    Origen: … Is the Father God?

    Heracleides: Indeed.

    O: Is the Son distinct from the Father?

    H: Of course, How could one be at once Father and Son?

    O: While being distinct from the Father, is the Son, too God?

    H: He too is God.

    O: And the unity that is being established is that of two Gods?

    H: Yes.

    O: Do we profess two Gods?.

    H: Yes. The power is one.

    The Making of the Abrahamic Religions in Late Antiquity (by Guy G. Stroumsa)

  7. Fascinating I’ve just learned of a possible link between Muhammad as seal of the prophets in surah 33:40 and church father Tertullian (2-3 third century) connecting Daniel 9, with Jesus as the “signet of all prophets” and whose “advent seals vision and prophecy”.

    Against the Jew 8, 12

    And (then) “righteousness eternal” was manifested, and “an Holy One of holy ones was anointed”–that is, Christ–and “sealed was vision and prophet,” and “sins” were remitted, which, through faith in the name of Christ, are washed away for all who believe on Him.

    But what does he mean by saying that “vision and prophecy are sealed?” That all prophets ever announced of Him that He was to come and had to suffer. Therefore, since the prophecy was fulfilled through His advent, for that reason he said that “vision and prophecy were sealed;” inasmuch as He is the signet of all prophets, fulfilling all things which in days bygone they had announced of Him. For after the advent of Christ and His passion there is no longer “vision or prophet” to announce Him as to come. In short, if this is not so, let the Jews exhibit, subsequently to Christ, any volumes of prophets, visible miracles wrought by any angels,(such as those) which in bygone days the patriarchs saw until the advent of Christ, who is now come; since which event “sealed is vision and prophecy,” that is, confirmed. And justly does the evangelist write, “The law and the prophets (were) until John” the Baptist.

    For, on Christ’s being baptized, that is, on His sanctifying the waters in His own baptism, all the plenitude of bygone spiritual grace-gifts ceased in Christ, sealing as He did all vision and prophecies, which by His advent He fulfilled. Whence most firmly does he assert that His advent “seals visions and prophecy.”


    • @Marc C

      The idea of Jesus Alayhis Salam being a similar seal of prophecy seems odd to me considering the presence of Revelation 11:3–12 saying the opposite.

      • Hi Vaqas,

        That’s a good point.

        However, I don’t think the various interpretations as to the identity of the witnesses precludes a possible link. Granted, there are a number of interpretations. Some have taken the witnesses to be Moses and Elijah (or modelled on these prophets), possibly symbolizing the Torah and Prophets (cf. the transfiguration in Mark 9). Others have taken the two witnesses to be not two individuals but a symbol of the witnessing church in the last tumultuous days before the end of the age. And there are other interpretations (Cf. the commentaries of Beale and Mounce for brief overviews).

        Also, the extent to which the Quran and Christian Tertulilan understood “seal of the prophets” in exactly same manner is not entirely clear and is debated. Hence my relatively modest formulation on a “possible link”.

    • @Marc C.

      Hi Marc.

      Yes i’m aware of the various interpretations concerning the witnesses identities, but i’d argue that the best interpretation is the simplest one. That they are simply two unknown persons that God chose to fulfill the role of prophethood. While the other interpretations that they are past prophets or just a symbolic representation are possible, I don’t find them as likely in my humble opinion.

      Still, i think the point you’ve raised is an interesting one.

      • Hi again Vaqas

        Personally, I find the Moses and Elijah interpretation convincing, because of the many details that fits this picture. For example, they have the power, like Elijah, to consume their enemies with fire (2 Kgs 1:10ff.) and to shut up the sky so that it will not rain (1 Kgs 17:1), and like Moses they can turn the waters into blood (Exod 7:14–18) and strike the earth with every kind of plague (Exod 8:12). Also, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:4). Again, possibly symbolizing the Torah/law and the Prophets.

        Whatever the correct interpretation, Tertullian didn’t understand this as a problem. He employed the formulation “seal of the prophets” for Jesus in interpreting Daniel 9, cf. 9:24 in particular. And here we might note, that in Revelation only the lamb or Jesus can break the seal.

        So I can definitely agree with you that this is an interesting point of similarity.

      • In other words, the message communicated by the author of Revelation might be that ultimately the Torah and Prophets are fulfilled and “sealed” in Jesus.

      • @ Vaqas

        Yes, that’s a fair observation. The point though is that these prophets are symbols of the Torah and the Prophets, which the Lamb is fulfilling. Or put in another way; Revelations is saying the Torah and the Prophets find their ultimate and fullest fulfillment in Jesus.

        The seal does not necessarily mean “the last” or be exclusively limited to “the last”. That’s part of the discussion on khatama (l-nabiyyina). The seal may also be taken to mean the fulfillment of the previous prophets, prophecies and visions. That’s also how early church fathers writing in Syriac such as Ephrem and Afrahat seem to understood it, cf. Daniel 9:24 “wlhtm” and note the Peshitta’s rendering of “wlmslm”, i.e. to fulfill, complete.

        Thus the meaning may (also) be one in which previous prophecies find fulfillment. To me it’s not necessarily or only a matter of influence, but rather a more dynamic relationship and creating a new discourse. One might, for example, imagine the is Quran deliberate in its drawing a parallel here between two important prophets Jesus and Muhammad. This in my opinion sits well with the observations made by scholars, that in the Quran Muhammad is portrayed as the pinnacle of previous prophets. In other words the Quranic discourse is engaging with ideas circulating in it’s time and religious milieu, in order to create it’s own unique message and prophetology.

    • @Marc C.

      I don’t find the similarities of the miracles argument to be all that convincing. After all if that was the point to show who they were why not simply name them and be done with it? I feel the similarities are instead there because the witnesses are in a similar time and role of God’s judgement. Hence they execute similar miracles. Tertullian may not have had a problem with it but i certainty do as one cannot be a true seal of prophecy if prophecy continues to individuals after said seal. True he may have had this interpretation in mind to say such a thing but like i said i find that interpretation unconvincing.

      I should clarify that while i find the point of discussion, the seals of prophethood in both religions interesting i don’t believe one faith influenced the other in this theology.

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