Scripture among the Apologists: Justin Martyr

justin-martyr1Justin Martyr is sometimes called the most important Christian of the second century. Born to a man named Priscus in a pagan family between 100 and 110 CE in Flavia Neapolis in Syrian Palestine, Justin eventually became one of the most prominent and influential early Christian writers and defenders of the faith.[i] Justin’s family moved from Palestine to Ephesus early in his life, and it was at Ephesus that he became acquainted with the philosophy of Stoics, Peripatetics, Pythagoreans, and Platonists.[ii] However, he was unsatisfied with this learning until he encountered the Hebrew prophets and converted to Christianity around 130 CE.[iii] He then opened a school in Rome, as a philosopher teaching Christianity as the only true and pure philosophy.[iv] His engagement with the life of the mind exhibited significant influence on subsequent Christian apologists and theologians, as did the sources and rhetoric he employed in his writings.[v] For unknown reasons, Justin was arrested along with six others (presumably his students) by the urban prefect Quintus Junius Rusticus and sentenced to death by the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, around 165 CE.[vi]

Justin’s writings continued to shape Christian thought long after his death. Eusebius records that Justin wrote numerous works, including Syntagma against all Heresies, Against Marcion, First Apology, Second Apology, Dialogue with Trypho, The Discourse on the Greeks, The Admonition to the Greeks, On the Divine Monarchy, The Psalmist, and On the Soul.[vii] Of these, only the Apologies and Dialogue remain extant.[viii] The First Apology (hereafter Apology), written to the Emperor Antonius Pius (r. 138-161 CE), his son Verissimus the philosopher, and to Lucius the philosopher around 156 CE,[ix] was the first specifically Christian text composed for a non-Christian audience.[x] The Apology is styled as a formal legal libellus, a petition to the Emperor complaining of Roman malpractice in courts of law.[xi] Here Justin does not merely employ the genre of petition, however, but hijacks it and recasts it as a vehicle for explaining and disseminating the Gospel.[xii] Legally, the Apology requests that anti-Christian persecutions be ceased in the name of justice and seeks to defend Christians against charges of atheism and rumors of wickedness.[xiii] Theologically, the Apology offers examples of Christian morals, provides insights into the contemporary liturgical practices of the Roman church, and demonstrates the importance of Logos Christology for the integration of faith and philosophy.[xiv] Treatments of the use of texts in the writings of early Christians are often grouped into three basic categories: Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian.[xv] In this study, these groupings are employed in the examination of both Justin and Theophilius.

[i] Justin Martyr, First Apology, trans. Leslie William Barnard (Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation 56; New York: Paulist Press, 1997), 1. David Ivan Rankin, From Clement to Origen: The Social and Historical Context of the Church Fathers (Burlington, V.T.: Ashgate, 2006), 95. Ludwig Schopp (ed), Writings of Saint Justin Martyr (The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation; Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1948), 9-10. Paul Parvis, “Justin Martyr”, ET 120, 53 (2008): 53-4. Oskar Skarsaune, The Proof From Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition: Text-Type, Provenance, Theological Profile (Leiden: Brill, 1987), 245. For an older introduction to Justin, consult C. E. Stowe, “Sketch of Justin Martyr”, Bibliotheca Sacra 9 (1852): 821-830. [ii] Paul Parvis, 54. Schoop, 10. L. W. Barnard, “The Old Testament and Judaism in the Writings of Justin Martyr”, VT 14 (1964): 395. [iii] Rankin, 95. Schoop, 12. [iv] Craig D. Allert, Revelation, Truth, Canon, and Interpretation: Studies in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 1. Paul Parvis, 54-5. Schoop, 12-13. Charles Kannengieser, Handbook of Patristic Exegesis: The Bible in Ancient Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 434. He apparently continued to wear the philosopher’s passium even after his conversion, according to Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, trans. Thomas B. Falls, rev. Thomas P. Halton, Selections from Fathers of the Church, Volume 3, ed. Michael Slusser (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of American Press, 2003), 1. Justin never became a priest, and that he became a deacon is only conjecture. [v] Oskar Skarsaune, “Jewish Christian Sources Used by Justin Martyr and Some Other Greek and Latin Fathers”, eds. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik, The Early Centuries: Jewish Believers in Jesus (Peabody, M.A.: Hendrickson, 2007), 379. William H. C. Frend, “The O. T. in the Age of the Greek Apologists (A.D. 130-180)”, SJT 26, 2 (1973): 145. [vi] The Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs, trans. Marcus Dods, eds. Roberts, Donaldson, and Coxe, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.). Schoop, 14. David E. Aune, “Justin Martyr’s Use of the Old Testament”, BETS 9, 4 (1966): 179. Paul Parvis, 54, 59. Kannengiesser (434) broadens the range of Justin’s death to sometime between 162 and 168 CE, though there is little reason to reject the traditional date of 165 CE. [vii] Eccl. Hist. 4.18. [viii] The relationship of the First and Second Apology remains a debated topic, with many scholars suggesting that the both are part of a single work. For an outline of common theories concerning the relationship of the First Apology to the Second Apology, see Paul Parvis, 57. [ix] Charles H. Cosgrove, “Justin Martyr and the Emerging Christian Canon: Observations on the Purpose and Destination of the Dialogue with Trypho”, VC 36 (1982): 211. Schoop, 25. Robert M. Grant, “Justin Martyr”, ed. David Noel Freedman, ABD, Volume 3 (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 1133. [x] Skarsaune, “Apologists”, 122. [xi] Skarsaune, “Apologists”, 123-4. Allert, 1. [xii] Paul Parvis, 56-7. Skarsaune, “Apologists”, 125. Parvis notes that the Apology is something of an odd petition—fifteen times the normal length of a petition, complete with a lengthy presentation about who Christians are—but the genre is that of legal petitions nonetheless. [xiii] Romanides, 119. Schoop, 23. [xiv] J. L. Marshall, “Some Observations on Justin Martyr’s Use of Testimonies”, SP 16, 2 (1985): 198. Romanides, 119. [xv] This is contra Susan J. Wendel, Scriptural Interpretation and Community Self-Definition in Luke-Acts and the Writings of Justin Martyr (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 15, who offers three specific categories for the study of Justin: “citations of the LXX and use of early Christian collections of proof-texts (i.e., ‘testimonia’); exegetical methods, Christological interpretation, and use of the Mosaic Law; and reliance upon Greco-Roman and Jewish interpretive methods.”


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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