Scripture among the Apologists: Justin’s Views on Scripture

BibleBefore turning to Theophilus of Antioch, it is worth pausing for a moment to reflect on why Justin’s use of scripture does not come across more clearly in his writings. First, there is the possibility that Justin cited some, if not many, of his sources from memory. This does not seem likely for his longer quotations, but remains a distinct possibility for some of his shorter citations where his communal practice may have significantly impacted his memory of texts.[i]

Second, Justin’s purposes in the Apology should be reiterated: he was not writing to an audience about which writings were authoritative for Christian faith and practice, but seeking to make a formal defense of the Christian faith. Given his purpose and audience, that Justin’s fairly obvious handling of written Christian sources comes across at all may be the most amazing feature of the Apology. Finally, the contextual literary practices of Justin’s day cannot be disregarded or subjected to contemporary standards. Justin cannot be expected to give full quotations with clear citations of every source he used.[ii] Further, in accordance with traditional Jewish and Greco-Roman practice, Justin felt free to condense, expand, combine, interpret, and stylistically change his sources.[iii] Contemporary readers of Justin should neither ignore these practices nor hold them to 21st century literary standards, but instead read them through a second century lens. Only when examined on its own terms may Justin’s conception of scripture be properly understood.

justin-martyr1This analysis of Justin Martyr’s conception of written sources of authority in his Apology indicates that he employed Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian texts as useful informants for his defense of the Christian faith. The Divine Logos, postulated in Greek philosophy, foretold in the Jewish Scriptures, discussed in Christian writings, and revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, serves as the ultimate source of authority for Justin. In this regard, the Johannine prologue and theology of the Logos functioned as an important source for Justin’s thought and argumentation. This emphasis on the authority of the Logos remains Justin’s most influential contribution to Christian theology and history, and it was this concept which helped shape the thought of another second century Christian apologist, Theophilus of Antioch.

[i] George J. Brooke, “Memory, Cultural Memory and Rewriting Scripture,” ed. Jozsef Zsengeller, Rewritten Bible after Fifty Years: Texts, Terms, or Techniques? A Last Dialogue with Geza Vermes (Supplements for the Study of Judaism 166; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 119-136. [ii] Romanides, 119. He wasn’t writing a graduate level paper, after all. [iii] Skarsaune, “Justin and His Bible”, 59-63. Aune, 19. Wendel, 124. K. L. Grube, “Die hermeneutischen Grundsatzen Justins des Martyrers,” Der Katholik 60 (1880): 139-59.


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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