Contender For God

Tertullian was born around A.D. 150 in the city of Carthage in North Africa. Both of his parents were pagan, and his father was a centurion. Tertullian received a thorough education in the knowledge of the Romans and the Greeks, and he apparently practiced law before his conversion. His writings indicate that he did not become a Christian until he was in his thirties or forties.

However, once Tertullian gave his life to Christ, he held nothing back. Like Paul, he viewed all of his worldly education and social rank as "dung" in relation to the things of Christ. At the same time, he used his vast learning in the cause of Christ. At the risk of his life, he wrote several works to the Romans, defending Christianity and attempting to persuade the authorities to halt their senseless persecution.

Tertullian apparently served as an elder or presbyter in Carthage, completely devoting his life to the ministry of Christ. Not only did he write apologetic works to the Romans, but he also composed a considerable number of writings in which he defended orthodox Christianity against various heretics. In other writings, he attacked the growing spiritual laxity he saw developing in the church.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and up until the time of Tertullian nearly all other Christian works had likewise been written in Greek. Although Tertullian was fluent in Greek and wrote several works in Greek, he penned most of his works in Latin--in order to benefit the growing number of western Christians who knew only Latin. As a result, Tertullian often had to develop Latin terminology to express the truths that had previously been presented primarily in the Greek language. The most famous of his newly coined terms was the word "Trinity," which has become a standard term in the Christian vocabulary.

Because of his fiery temperament and forceful convictions, nearly all of Tertullian's writings have polemic overtones. Church historian Phillip Schaff said of him: "He resembled a foaming mountain torrent rather than a calm, transparent river in the valley. His vehement temper was never fully subdued, although he struggled sincerely against it. He was a man of strong convictions, and never hesitated to express them without fear or favor. ...His polemics everywhere leave marks of blood. It is a wonder that he was not killed by the heathens, or excommunicated by the Catholics." [Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1910), pp. 822-824).

Tertullianís Apology is one of the best-known works of the pre-Nicene era. In it, he provides a stirring defense of Christianity to the Roman rulers.