Scripture among the Apologists: Justin’s Greco-Roman Sources

Socrates and Plato
Socrates and Plato

Greek philosophy plays an unquestionably important role in the thought of Justin Martyr and in the presentation of his Apology. While some scholars have suggested that Justin merely styled himself as a philosopher and was not seriously involved in that enterprise, the number and quality of the Greco-Roman sources employed in the Apology suggests Justin’s intimate knowledge of philosophical thought.[i] Though he rejected certain features of contemporary philosophical thought, such as imperial ascension and creation myths,[ii] Justin was deeply influenced by Platonism.[iii] His contrast between Socrates and Christ,[iv] allegorical interpretation,[v] and the philosophy of the logos[vi] demonstrate the value which Justin saw in the Greek philosophical tradition.

On the logos, as Paul Parvis has noted, “just as Justin has hijacked a normal administrative procedure and turned it into a vehicle for the Gospel, so has he hijacked a widely used philosophical term and turned it into a way of trying to explain to an uncomprehending world who Jesus is.”[vii] But while the Apology offers numerous opportunities for finding common ground between the pagan and true philosophies, it was only insofar as the Greeks accorded with Christian teaching that Justin would acknowledge them to be teachers of truth.[viii] Greco-Roman philosophy, then, while a valuable source for Justin in his communication with the Empire, ultimately needed to bow its knee to Christian truth.

[i] Apology 18.5; 21.2; 22.1; 23.1; 31.2; 36.2; 44.8; 54.5; 59.1. Denis Minns and Paul Parvis, Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: Apologies (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 67. Rankin, 97. Skarsaune, “Apologists”, 133. [ii] Apology 18.1. Peter Widdicombe, “Justin Martyr, Allegorical Interpretation, and the Greek Myths”, ed. Elizabeth A. Livingstone, Studia Patristica 31: Preaching, Second Century, Tertullian to Arnobius, Egypt before Nicaea (Leuven: Peeters, 1997), 234-6. [iii] Cf. Republic 5.473d and Apology 3; Timaeus and Apology 60. Rankin, 98-102. Interestingly, Justin believed that Plato and other pagan writers accessed and deviated from the Jewish Scriptures, giving them some insights into Christian truths. See Apology 59.1-69.11 and Minns, 68. Rankin, 101, also notes the likely influence of Stoicism. [iv] Skarsaune, “Apologists”, 128-9. [v] Apology 21.2; 22.2; 64.5. Widdicombe, 237. [vi] Skarsaune, “Apologists”, 129. Paul Parvis, 58. Cosgrove, 217. On the resurrection of the logos, see Apology 18-9. [vii] Paul Parvis, 59. [viii] Cosgrove, 216. David F. Wright. “Christian Faith in the Greek World: Justin Martyr’s Testimony.” Evangelical Quarterly 54, 2 (1982): 81.


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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