Scripture among the Apologists: Similarities

Apostolic FathersThe argument of this paper, that Justin and Theophilus each view specifically Christian writings as useful authorities for the construction of their apologetic works, has already been demonstrated. To more fully engage the considerations of the authority with which these two second century apologists viewed Christian sources, this study now offers a comparative analysis of how these two writers conceived of and employed written sources in the construction of their apologetic theologies, paying special attention to the function of the Gospel of John and Logos for each.

Speaking generally, Justin and Theophilus exhibit a number of striking similarities in their application of written sources, especially their willingness to engage Greek philosophy, the sources of Hellenistic Judaism, and writings of Christians. Both Justin and Theophilus exhibited signs of Platonic and Stoic influence, especially concerning the concept of logos.  Theophilus, who effectively followed Justin’s lead here, displayed acute derision toward pagan idolatry that became commonplace in Christianity. Both exhibited reliance on the Septuagint form of the Jewish Scriptures—especially Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Psalms, and Proverbs—and intellectual tradition of Hellenistic Judaism—most notably the Philonic tradition if not the writings of Philo himself. These writers also displayed a similar exegetical approach to the texts of the Jewish Scriptures, preferring to recast them according to Christian tradition and stylistic needs rather than cite them rigidly. There are also a number of important similarities regarding Christian writings.

Gospel Writers
Gospel Writers

First and foremost, Justin and Theophilus felt free to use these new sources as guides for Christian faith, practice, and apologetics. Second, both writers emphasize the importance of Matthew, John, Romans, and 1 Corinthians, and to a somewhat lesser extent, the value of Luke-Acts, Philippians, Colossians, Hebrews, and the Apocalypse of John. This is consistent with John Barton’s thesis concerning the early development of the Christian canon around a “core” of writings.[i] Third, Justin’s and Theophilus’ usage of Christian writings indicates a still fluid conception of the boundaries of what constituted acceptable Christian writings, as both employed sources outside what is now the Christian canon as useful sources of information for their presentation and defense of Christianity. If nothing else, these similarities demonstrate the currency which Plato, Philo, Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, the Psalms, Proverbs, Matthew, John, Romans, and 1 Corinthians had among early Christian writers.[ii]

[i] Barton, 26. [ii] McDonald writes that, “When [Christian] writings were placed alongside the Scriptures of [Judaism] and appealed to authoritatively in the life and worship of the early church, they functioned as Scripture in the church even if they were not yet called Scripture.” See McDonald, 271. It thus seems appropriate to speak of an early functional “New Testament” canon evidenced by both Justin and Theophilus. This is not to say that either intentionally conceived of a specifically Christian canon, though the possibility of a four-Gospel codex used by Justin or Pauline corpus by Theophilus begins to point in this direction.


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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