01.3.1 Justin Martyr on the Logos – the Integration of Original Christianity with Greek Philosophy

Justin is the most famous of the first apologists and shows the beginning of the integration of Greek philosophy with Christian doctrine.

As a caveat it must be stated that, like all the early Church fathers, everything that Justin wrote was not accepted as definitive for Christian theology.  In fact, the earlychurch.org.uk website puts it this way:

“Most scholars agree that Justin was verbose, confused, inconsistent and often not convincing in his arguments. Nevertheless, he is an important figure in the history of the Church.”[i]

As to his verbosity there are numerous writings of Justin that have survived including his first and second apologies,  his “Dialogue of Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, with Trypho, a Jew”,  “the Sole Government of God”  His writing included a wide scope of topics, heavily engaging philosophers of the time and quoting philosophy extensively.  Furthermore, Justin not only wrote, but publicly debated with his detractors, and of that he wrote that they would plot his demise, which they did.

Justin showed in numerous places that philosophers and poets had written the same truth that Christians presented.  For example, Sophocles is a famous ancient Greek playwright, who wrote, among other things, Oedipus the King.  Justin showed Christian, one-God thinking in Sophocles’ writing:

“Sophocles also thus describes the nature of the only Creator of all things, the One God:—

“There is one God, in truth there is but one,

Who made the heavens and the broad earth beneath,

The glancing waves of ocean, and the winds;

But many of us mortals err in heart,

And set up, for a solace in our woes,

Images of the gods in stone and brass,

Or figures carved in gold or ivory;

And, furnishing for these, our handiworks,

Both sacrifice and rite magnificent,

We think that thus we do a pious work.”[ii]

Despite this concern over some inaccuracies in his thought, Justin radically impacted Christian thought, and started a affinity for philosophy in the Christian world that has continued to this day.  Augustine and Thomas Aquinas are perhaps the most famous of the many Christian theologians with heavy ties to philosophy.

As an apologist Justin defended Christianity against pagan philosophers and Roman persecution by saying that not only was Christianity a new philosophy but it was the only true philosophy.  Going back to the Stoics hundreds of years before Christ, the Logos, Divine Reason, was seen by many in the Greek culture as the mediator between God and men.  To many of the philosophers, the Logos, Divine Reason, was God’s vehicle for communicating with man.  God himself was too wonderful, too terrible, just too much in every capacity to have any actual contact with man.  Philo, an Alexandrian Jew, wrote about the Logos at about the same time that the apostles were moving in the Book of Acts with the Word of God.  He couched Judaism in philosophical terms, again embracing the Logos as the vehicle, the intermediary between God and men.  John in his gospel allows for the same concept of the Logos.  When John is saying that the Logos is with God, and the Logos is God, he is discussing a philosophical concept, pervasive at least in the intellectual culture of the time and perhaps in the community at large, of a Divine Reason that is an intermediary force between God and men.  Justin elaborates on Jesus Christ as the Logos from a stoic point of view.

In the previous article on stoicism we discussed the stoic view of God, whom they defined as the Logos:

“… the universe is a single ordered whole , a perfect organism that unites within itself all that exists in the world. It is ruled by a supreme cosmic power, a fiery substance that the Stoics called Logos, Divine Reason, or God.  The Logos is the organizing, integrating, and energizing principle of the whole universe.  As a perfect entity, the universe combines within itself the Logos or Divine Reason, which is its soul, and matter, which serves as its body. Since everything is derived from God, everything is a part of God, but not separated or cut from the whole.  Each individual soul is a fragment of the universal Logos or God.”[iii]

It should be easy to recognize that this is not the traditional Christian view of the Trinity, or even the relationship between the Father and the Son. This view of the Logos says that the Logos is an energizing principle, a force of the universe, and is also called divine Reason.    As we have discussed in the previous article on stoicism, stoicism was the most predominant philosophy in the Greco-Roman world at the time of the birth of Christianity

Justin greatly advanced Christian doctrine on the Logos  and Jesus as the incarnate living word (Logos).  Williston Walker in A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH writes:

“Justin’s central belief was that Christianity was the truest of philosophies, because taught by the prophets of the Old Testament and by the divine Logos ‘our teacher… Who is both Son and apostle of God the Father.’  This divine Logos he concedes, in true stoic fashion, as everywhere and always at work, teaching the Greeks, of whom he cites Socrates and Heraclitus, and the “barbarians,” such as Abraham, so that these, and all that who at any time obeyed the same guidance were really Christians.  His great advance on stoicism is his conviction that this all illuminating divine Logos became  definitely incarnate in Christ, so that in him is the only full revelation of that which  elsewhere is less distinctly seen .”[iv]

Justin writes about the Logos as interchangeable with both the Son and the holy spirit:

“It is wrong, therefore, to understand the Spirit and the power of God as anything else than the Word, who is also the first-born of God, as the foresaid prophet Moses declared; and it was this which, when it came upon the virgin and overshadowed her, caused her to conceive, not by intercourse, but by power. And the name Jesus in the Hebrew language means Soter (Saviour) in the Greek tongue. Wherefore, too, the angel said to the virgin, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” And that the prophets are inspired by no other than the Divine Word, even you, as I fancy, will grant.” [v]

In the above quote from Justin the Word (Logos) is called the Son, “the first born of God”, and the Spirit, the inspiration of the prophets.

In the quote below look at how Justin emphasizes the aspect of “reason” as critical in living a godly, Christian life. In fact, his point is that anyone that “lived reasonably” were living according to the Word, thus they were Christians. Also look at the references to the Word  (Logos)  in the  quote below;  “Christ is …the Word,”  “the power of the Word (Logos)”:

“We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably, are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we know it would be tedious. So that even they who lived before Christ, and lived without reason, were wicked and hostile to Christ, and slew those who lived reasonably. But who, through the power of the Word, according to the will of God the Father and Lord of all, He was born of a virgin as a man, and was named Jesus, and was crucified, and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, an intelligent man will be able to comprehend from what has been already so largely said.”[vi]

Justin is writing this to show the availability of salvation to all those that were born before Christ.  Basically, he is saying they were saved because they were reasonable, thus making them partakers of “Divine Reason”, i.e., Christ. This is not the same as in Original Christianity where the wisdom of Christ was declared by Paul to be foolishness to the Greeks and the world’s wisdom did not give people access to the knowledge of God. For example:

For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

Justin wrote that the Logos, the word of God, besides being incarnate in Jesus, appeared as fire and as angels:

“But so much is written for the sake of proving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and His Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing sometimes in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels; but now, by the will of God, having become man for the human race,”[vi]

The overall context of the above citation is quite explanatory:

“Now the Word of God is His Son, as we have before said. And He is called Angel and Apostle; for He declares whatever we ought to know, and is sent forth to declare whatever is revealed; as our Lord Himself says, “He that heareth Me, heareth Him that sent Me.” From the writings of Moses also this will be manifest; for thus it is written in them, “And the Angel of God spake to Moses, in a flame of fire out of the bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of thy fathers; go down into Egypt, and bring forth My people.” And if you wish to learn what follows, you can do so from the same writings; for it is impossible to relate the whole here. But so much is written for the sake of proving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and His Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing sometimes in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels; but now, by the will of God, having become man for the human race, He endured all the sufferings which the devils instigated the senseless Jews to inflict upon Him; who, though they have it expressly affirmed in the writings of Moses, “And the angel of God spake to Moses in a flame of fire in a bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” yet maintain that He who said this was the Father and Creator of the universe. Whence also the Spirit of prophecy rebukes them, and says, “Israel doth not know Me, my people have not understood Me.”[vi]

The logic is simple for the explanation that the angel and the fire are also the Logos as they both identify themselves as being God, “I am…God…”, being in the message they deliver.

Justin taught that the Philosophers had their beginnings in the Law and the prophets. The same Logos that engergized creation resides in all those that teach reasonably. The Logos inspired the both the Jewish prophets, and the Greek poets and philosophers. The Logos was manifested in angels and fires, and incarnated as the redeemer, Jesus Christ, the living Logos, the first born of all that is created.

[i]EarlyChurch.org.uk, this page located at http://www.earlychurch.org.uk/justin.php
[ii] Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.vii.ii.html, (On the Sole Government, Chapter II)
[iii] The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant, Touchstone, Simon & Schuster New York, 1961. p.51
[iv] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Williston Walker, Scribners, New York, 1959, p. 47
[v] Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.ii.xxxiii.html
[vi] Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.ii.xlvi.html
[vi] Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.ii.lxiii.html
[vi] ibid.

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

1 thought on “01.3.1 Justin Martyr on the Logos – the Integration of Original Christianity with Greek Philosophy”

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