Justin the Martyr’s life spanned from 100 to 165 A.D[i]. Unlike the previous Christians we have looked at, Justin did not have the experience with the Jewish tradition and culture of Christianity of his predecessors. Justin, being born to a pagan family in Sheckham, Samaria, embraced philosophy as a young man, ” being first a Stoic, then a Peripatetic, a Pythagorean, a Platonist, and finally he came to know Christianity.”[ii] In other words, after he became an expert in philosophy, he came to Christianity. As such, his writings are inundated with philosophy. The fact that Justin became a martyr speaks to his devotion and sincerity.
It must be stated from the first the Justin Martyr was writing in defense of his own life and other Christians who were being persecuted. In fact, Justin was one of the first apologists (defenders of the faith against the Roman persecutors), and is considered the most important apologist of the second century.
In the first apology of Justin, in chapter 4, Justin writes
“and those among yourselves who are accused you do not punish before they are convicted; but in our case you receive the name as proof against us, and this although, as far as the name goes, you ought rather to punish our accusers. For we are accused of being Christians,…”[iii]
Although Rome at this time considered itself a civilized state where there were a body of laws that provided for a stable civilian population, Justin criticizes this violation of that law. Christians were really being condemned just for being Christians, not because they truly violated any laws. Justin argues that Christians, above other citizens, are examples of virtuous living. He says that it is people who live wickedly that are accusing Christians of being wicked.
Justin refutes the claim by critics of Christianity of the time that Christians are atheists. (Christians were called atheists because they did not believe in the gods, plural. As Christians believed in one singular God, they were breaking the law that all gods were to be respected under Roman law.) Justin admits that they only believe in one God, and in other parts of the letter points out the folly of worshiping man-made gods, shrines, soul-less and dead vessels, statues and other forms of idol worship.
The bulk of the letter is written to show the godly, rational, virtuous lifestyle of the Christian and how they should be praised as exemplary citizens instead of being persecuted by pagan detractors.
It seems perfectly natural that Justin would write with so much reference to philosophy both because of his background in the subject, and because of the appreciation of philosophy of those around the Emperor. Philosophy was highly respected by the Emperor and his cohorts.
Thus Justin Martyr wrote his First Apology to the Emperor Titus to argue the cause of Christianity from the perspective of Christianity as true philosophy. In the opening statement Justin addresses not only Tatian, but Tatian’s sons, Verissimus the Philosopher, and Lucius the Philosopher. Could the importance of philosophy be any greater to this group?
In some ways Justin’s writing reflect the philosophers he studied. In chapter 3 of the first apology Justin writes “unless both rulers and ruled philosophize, it is impossible to make states blessed,” and cites it as a saying of one of the ancient philosophers. In some of the later chapters in the letter Justin writes how Plato borrowed from Moses.[iv] Justin, in his writings, claims that Christianity is the true philosophy.
Here is a sampling of Justin’s writing on Christian topics:
“The poets and mythologists did not know that it was the [wicked] angels, and those demons who had been begotten by them, who did the various things to man, women, cities, and nations that the poets and mythologists wrote about. So they ascribed them to God himself and to those who were considered to be his very offspring… For they called them by whatever name each of the angels had given to himself and to his children.”[v]
“All who have been twice married by human law, are sinners in the eyes of our master.”[vi]
Life after death:
“The souls of the godly remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse place, waiting for the time of judgment.”[vii]
“You may have fallen in with some [Gnostics] were called Christians. However, they do not admit this [intermediate state], and they venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham… They say there is no resurrection of the dead. Rather, they say that when they die, their souls are taken to heaven. Do not imagine that they are Christians. “[viii]
Salvation, repentance and remission of sin:
“But there is no other way than this: to become acquainted with this Christ, to be washed in the fountain spoken of by Isaiah for the remission of sins, and for the rest, to live a sinless lives.”[ix]
“’Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin’ [Psalm 32:2]. That is, having repented of his sins, he can receive remission of them from God. But this is not as you Jews deceive yourselves, and some others who resemble you in this. For they say, that even though they remain is one, the Lord will not impute sin to them, because they know God.”[x]
“If some, through weak mindedness, wish to observe the laws given by Moses,… Yet choose to live with the Christians and the faithful, as I said before, not inducing the Gentiles either to be circumcised like themselves, or to keep the Sabbath, or to observe any other such ceremonies, that I hold that we should join ourselves with such persons.”[xi]
[i] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Williston Walker, Scribners, New York, 1959, p. 46
[ii] THE FAITH OF THE EARLY FATHERS, Volume 1, William A Jurgens, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1970, p. 50
[iii] Justin Martyr – the First Apology Of Justin, Chapter 4 – Christians Unjustly Condemned For Their Mere Name.
[iv] ibid.. – Chapter LIX – Plato’s obligation to Moses
[v] A DICTIONARY OF EARLY CHRISTIAN BELIEFS, David W. Bercot, Editor, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 7th Printing, March 2008, ISBN 978-1-56563-357-5, p. 203
© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.