As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we are looking at some of the people that have stood out in the history of the church. This past Sunday we focused on Justin Martyr.
Justin was probably a Roman Gentile, born early in the second century in the city of Flavia Neapolis located in Samaria. What we know of him comes primarily from his extant works or statements about him in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History
Justin was especially prominent in those days. In the guise of a philosopher he preached the divine word, and contended for the faith in his writings. (Eccl Hist 4.11)
Justin lived in the early 2nd century, spending most of his life under the reign of the Roman Emperors Hadrian and Antonius Pius.
Living in the early 2nd century, and traveling broadly as he studied philosophy, Justin would have learned about Christianity from people who were potentially taught by the apostles. Given his travels, he also would have a good understanding of the doctrines held across numerous locations. Thus, in Justin’s writings we find important descriptions of the practices and doctrines of the early church.
There are three extant works that are generally accepted as being written by him.
- First Apology, addressed to Antonius Pius, and generally dated between 150 and 157
- Second Apology, often considered as part of the First Apology
- Dialogue with Trypho, which defends Jesus as Messiah to those who are Jewish. It is usually dated around 160.
It is certain that Trypho was written sometime after the First Apology since Justin mentions it during the dialogue.
For I gave no thought to any of my people, that is, the Samaritans, when I had a communication in writing with Cæsar, but stated that they were wrong in trusting to the magician Simon of their own nation … (Trypho 120)
Several fragments of other writings exist that are often attributed to Justin. But there is less certainty that these were actually written by him.
Within Justin’s writing we find early descriptions of the Trinity:
[Trypho refutes Justin saying] For when you say that this Christ existed as God before the ages, then that He submitted to be born and become man, yet that He is not man of man, this [assertion] appears to me to be not merely paradoxical, but also foolish (Trypho 48)
as well as views on soteriology:
the Gentiles, who have believed on Him, and have repented of the sins which they have committed, they shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs and the prophets, and the just men who are descended from Jacob, even although they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts. Assuredly they shall receive the holy inheritance of God. (Trypho 26)
… Therefore our suffering and crucified Christ … alone would save those who do not depart from His faith. (Trypho 111)
and eschatology (historic premillenialism)
[Christ] shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians (Trypho 110)
… he whom Daniel foretells would have dominion for a time, and times, and an half, is even already at the door, about to speak blasphemous and daring things against the Most High (Trypho 32)
… But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged … [and] those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place. (Trypho 80, 81)
Justin’s writings also include one of the earliest conversion testimonies.
But straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and whilst revolving his words in my mind, I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable. Thus, and for this reason, I am a philosopher. (Trypho 8)
These words are reminiscent of the experience recounted by John Wesley in his journal.
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
The slides used in class are available here (Justin Martyr (pdf))