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Justin Martyr

By Kyle Pope

Life and Martyrdom

The religious philosopher Justin was an important figure in the history of the church of the second century.  Raised in the Greek colony of Flavia Neapolis (modern Nablus), while young Justin became a disciple of Greek philosophy (particularly Middle Platonism).  Upon his conversion to Christ, Justin became an important defender of the Christian faith as he understood it.  His opposition to the Cynic Crescens led to his trial before Rusticus, the Urban Prefect of Rome around 165 AD. On the sole charge of being a Christian  Justin was condemned, beheaded and named within church history as “Justin Martyr.”

Writings

      Eusebius attributes eight works to him composed ca. 150-165 AD. (Ecclesiastical History, 4.18.1-9).  Although some of these are no longer extant and many attributed to him are disputed, three undisputed works offer us an enlightening glimpse into the religious environment of the early church.  The longest, the Dialogue with Trypho, is a discourse between Justin and a hellenistic Jew styled after a Platonic dialogue.  It relates both Justin’s conversion and his attempt to persuade Trypho that Jesus is the Christ.  The two remaining works, the First Apology and the Second Apology (sometimes considered simply an appendix), are letters addressed to the emperor  Antoninus Pius, his heirs Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius, and to the Roman senate.  In these letters Justin offers a defense of faith and practice in his day.

Beliefs

      From Justin’s writings we have a rather full picture of his understanding of a number of religious doctrines.  At the end of the First Apology  he also gives a full description of Christian worship in the second century (61, 66-67).  Let us consider a few of his views.

Baptism:  It is very clear that Justin believed in the necessity of baptism.  He calls it “the bath for the remission of sins and regeneration” (I Apol. 66).  Justin applies John 3:3,4 to baptism which he teaches is in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  This was clearly more than sprinkling or pouring.  He claims that those to be baptized “are led by us where there is water and are born again”  (I Apol. 61).     

Free Will:  Long before the deterministic views of Augustine, Justin offers some clear statements articulating a belief in free will.  Justin claims that “God, wishing men and angels to follow His will,  resolved to create them free to do righteousness; possessing reason.”  He then goes on to claim that God’s punishment of them is not because He created them to sin, but “all who wish for it can obtain the mercy of God” (Dial. 102).  Justin believes human beings “each according to their deliberate choice either do right or sin.”  He adds, that “this is the nature of all that is begotten, to be capable of wickedness and of virtue; for neither would any one of them be praise-worthy, if they did not have the power to turn themselves towards both”  (2 Apol. 7).     

Divorce:  Justin declared boldly to the Roman emperor the Lord’s condemnation of divorce and remarriage.  After quoting the last part of Matthew 5:32 Justin declares “whoever, by human law, makes second marriages are considered sinners by our Teacher” (I Apol. 15).  While he does not mention the exception for fornication, he does record an example of a Roman woman putting away her husband because of fornication (II Apol. 2).      

The Lord’s Supper:  Although Justin basically echoes Scriptural teaching on the the Lord’s Supper he is a bit confusing about its significance.  Justin states “we receive these things not as common bread nor common drink, but … we have been taught they are the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (I Apol. 66).   It is not clear how far Justin takes this.  While some feel that he is teaching that the elements become the literal body and blood, he does not state this explicitly.  Elsewhere he simply speaks of them “in remembrance” of Christ becoming flesh, and “in remembrance” of His blood (Dial. 70).      

 Conclusion

      While most of Justin’s views harmonize with Scripture, on some issues such as the eternal nature of Christ, and the relationship between Scripture and human philosophy he demonstrates a departure from New Testament doctrine.  Even so, Justin serves as a powerful witness of a time when the roots of apostasy were not as deep as they would soon become.    

Pope, Kyle. "Justin Martyr" Biblical Insights 1.3 (March 2001): 19.  

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