Scripture among the Apologists: Justin, Logos, and Paul

The Gospel of JohnOn Justin’s conception of the logos, much has also been written. Perhaps most important is that prior to the Apology, only in Johannine literature is Jesus identified with the logos.[i] On this Pryor writes that, “Outside the Johannine tradition there is no evidence of an explicit Logos Christology in the first century. Indeed, even here the explicit evidence is narrowed to three places: John 1:1-14, Rev. 19:3, and 1 John 1:1.”[ii] While Justin never explicitly quotes from the prologue of John, there are numerous allusions to language from that passage, as well as multiple theological connections.[iii] Contextually, it is imperative to recall that Justin would receive no assistance from naming his sources, for the Emperor would not have granted any sort of authority to John’s Gospel.[iv] Justin’s reliance on Logos theology pervades his Apology. To again cite Pryor, “There simply is no evidence that the apologists derived their initial impetus for developing a Logos Christology from any other source except Johannine Christianity.”[v] Thus, it seems very likely that Justin found the Fourth Gospel and its Logos doctrine a formative source for his Apology.

Of considerable importance for Justin—though less authoritative than the Logos and Gospel accounts of his words and actions—were other specifically Christian sources. While he nowhere cites them by name, Justin appears to have been familiar with several of Paul’s writings, most clearly Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians.[vi] Justin’s knowledge of Philippians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians remains possible, but remains less certain.[vii] Additionally, he alludes to Hebrews 3.1 in Apology 12.9 and 63.10.[viii] Despite William Frend’s denial of Justin’s engagement with the Acts of the Apostles, the reference to Simon Magnus in Apology 26 suggests his knowledge of second part of Luke’s corpus.[ix] There may also be several references to 1 John in the Apology, though these reminiscences are too slight to affirm any knowledge on Justin’s part.[x]

RevelationAlthough Justin employed the Apocalypse of John in his Dialogue 81.4 and calls it one of “our writings” in Apology 28.1, he nowhere makes use of this work in the Apology.[xi] Justin’s use of the infancy narratives may indicate reliance upon the Protoevangelium of James or the substratum of tradition preserved in that text.[xii] To summarize briefly Justin’s employment of Christian sources in the Apology, he knew and used Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Acts, drawing also upon catechetical materials.[xiii] He also knew of the Apocalypse of John, and possibly used Philippians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, and Protoevangelium of James.[xiv]

[i] J. D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making (London: SCM, 1980), 213-39. [ii] Pryor, 161. [iii] Apology 46. Pryor, 162. Shotwell, 2. Piper, 164. Theological connections include references to the saving work of the logos and location of the logos in all human beings. [iv] Or any other Christian writing or interpretation. Pryor, 162. It is worth noting that Tatian, who undoubtedly knew the Fourth Gospel and used it in his Diatessaron, only refers to John four times in his apologetic Address to the Greeks, trans. J. E. Ryland, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, eds. Roberts, Donaldson, and Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885). [v] Pryor, 163. This is not to suggest that Justin did not develop or modify the Logos doctrine in any way, but rather to locate his initial source for reflecting upon and employing that concept in his work. See Hurtado, “Jesus”, 129. [vi] Apology 19.4 and 1 Cor. 15.33; Apology 28.3 and Rom. 1.20-1; Apology 52.3 and 1 Cor. 15.53; Apology 60.11 and 1 Cor. 2.5. Massaux, 47-8. Minns, 69. Frend, 146. Shotwell, 23. Skarsaune, Proof, 130. [vii] George T. Purves, The Testimony of Justin Martyr to Early Christianity (New York, 1889. rpt. Charleston: BiblioBazaar, 2010),  238-41. See also the reading of Ezek. 37:7-8 and Is. 45:23 found in Apology 52.5-6 from either Phil. 2.10 or Rom. 14.11. [viii] Aune, 185. Shotwell, 23. [ix] Frend, 146. [x] Purves, 238-41. [xi] McDonald, 286. [xii] Bellinzoni, 139. Eric Francis Fox Bishop, “Some Reflections on Justin Martyr and the Nativity Narratives”, EQ 39 (1967): 31-2. Piper, 163. Shotwell, 25-7. Purves, 205-7. This tradition may also explain the thirteen parallels between Justin and the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies. [xiii] Noteworthy are Skarsaune’s suggestions that Justin had access to these writings in codex form and possibly possessed a four-gospel codex. See Skarsaune, “Justin and His Bible”, 54, 75. [xiv] Justin’s use of these sources, far from demonstrating his reversal of any New Testament canonization process, instead place Justin and his conception of specifically Christian writings firmly within expected orthodox attitudes toward and uses of Christian texts during this period. This is contra Cosgrove (209, 227), Piper (165), and somewhat opposed to Allert (14).


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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