Scripture among the Apologists: Justin’s Jewish Sources

hebrew-bibleAs important as Greek philosophy was for Justin, the Jewish mind may have been even more influential. Broadly speaking, Justin was indebted to the Philonic interpretive tradition,[i] Jewish haggadah,[ii] and Hebraic monotheism.[iii] More specifically, though, Justin relied upon the Jewish Scriptures as an important foundation for his theology and exegesis.[iv]

Justin’s approach to the Jewish Scriptures walked that fine balance between excessive devotion to those writings (the practice of the Judaizers and Ebionites) and total rejection of the old books (Marcion’s path). Most often discussed surrounds how Justin accessed the Jewish Scriptures: either through the Septuagint (hereafter LXX) or via Christian Messianic testamonia.  It has long been argued that Justin employed Christian collections of proof-texts from the Jewish Scriptures, which quite possibly contained Christian interpretive glosses.[v] Yet he also seems to display knowledge of specific Jewish books. Oskar Skarsaune’s solution to this quandary best explains Justin: for shorter, non-LXX-form citations, Justin used Christian testimonia and often built upon their interpretive notes;[vi] for longer passages Justin relied upon the LXX scrolls to which he had access.[vii]

Book of PsalmsFor example, Justin’s long quotation of Isaiah 53 in Apology 50 came through his contact with that book in its entirety.[viii] Given Justin’s propensity for lengthy quotations, in addition to Christian testimonia, he seems to have had at least occasional access to the complete texts of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Twelve Prophets, Psalms, Proverbs, and Daniel, though he relies most heavily upon Genesis, Isaiah, and the Psalms.[ix] In his use of the testimonia and Jewish Scriptures, Justin affirmed their trustworthiness and value for the Christian faith. The prophecies of Israel rightly foretold of the Christ and thus disclosed the divine character of the Gospel story for all who read them as types of events fulfilled during the life of Jesus.

For Justin, use of Jewish sources did not make them more “Jewish,” but rather encompassing of all the nations, all of whom are called to believe in the Divine Logos.[x] Thus, in Apology 36 Justin is able to explain how God speaks in various passages of Scripture: not through the prophets themselves, but through the inspiration of the Logos. While the Jewish Scriptures played an important role in Justin’s thinking, these sources ultimately were subjected to the Logos himself.

[i] Willis A. Shotwell, The Biblical Exegesis of Justin Martyr (London: S. P. C. K., 1965), 55, argues that Justin depends on Philo either directly or through Paul. Skarsaune (Proof, 433) claims that this interpretive tradition was mediated through the general influence of Hellenistic Judaism. [ii] A. H. Goldfahn, “Justinus Maryr und die Agada”, Monatsschrift fur Geschichte und Wissenshaft des Judentums 22 (1873): 49-269. Skarsaune, “Jewish Christian Sources,” 415. [iii] Otto A. Piper, “The Nature of the Gospel According to Justin Martyr.” JR 41, 3 (1961): 158. This is especially evident in his reflections on the Logos and the Spirit as two original δθναμεθς of God. Justin was also aware of contemporary Jewish events, referencing the recently failed Bar-Cochba revolt in Apology 31. [iv] Aune, 179. Rankin, 95. Wendel , 17. Frend, 141. Jean Danielou, Theology of Jewish Christianity: A History of Early Christianity Before the Council of Nicaea, trans. John A. Baker (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1977), 53. See also Frances Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Peabody, M.A.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 57-67, 288-91. Larry Hurtado notes that Justin stands as an important preserver of early Jewish Christian forms of faith and piety. See Larry W. Hurtado, “’Jesus’ as God’s Name, and Jesus as God’s Embodied Name in Justin Martyr”, eds. Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, Justin Martyr and His Worlds (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 128. [v] This idea has become even more popular since the discoveries at Qumran, especially the 4Q documents, which contain a collection of eschatological prophesies from a variety of sources. Skarsaune, Proof, 21. J. R. Harris, Testimonies, Volume I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1916; rpt. 2012). J. R. Harris, Testimonies, Volume II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1920; rpt. 2012). N. J. Hommes, Het Testimoniaboek: Studien over O.T. citaten in het N.T. en bij de Patres, met chitische beschouwingen over de theorieen van J. Rendel Harris en D. Plooy (Amsterdam: Noord-Hollandsche Uitgevers-Maatschappi, 1935). See also D. Plooij, Studies in the Testimony Book (ALNR, 32 , 2; Amsterdam: Akademie van Wetenschappen, 1932). [vi] Skarsaune, “Justin and His Bible”, 55-8. On Justin’s use of testimonia collections, see Aune, 186. Minns, 67. Marshall, 197. Skarsaune, Proof, 8, 428. Pierre Prigent, L’Epitre de Barnabe I-XVI et ses Sources: Les Testamonia dans le Christianisme Primitif (Paris: J. Gabalda et Companie, 1961), 16-28. [vii] Skarsaune, “Justin and His Bible”, 58. See also Shotwell, 6-7 and Frend, 141. [viii] Apology 62.4; 63.6; 67. Minns, 67. Skarsaune, Proof, 8-20. Skarsaune argues that, at least in the case of the Twelve Prophets, Justin’s version of the LXX was a Jewish, and not Christian, version. See also Joost Smith Sibinga, The Old Testament Text of Justin Martyr, Volume 1: The Pentateuch (Leiden: Brill, 1963), who suggests that Justin knew no Hebrew. [ix] Skarsaune, “Justin and His Bible”, 58. [x] Skarsaune, “Jewish Christian Sources,” 413. Shotwell, 8.


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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