Who Was Justin Martyr?

This post is part of an ongoing series on Paul and Pneuma, Justin and Judaism.

Justin occupies a relatively unique place in the history of Christianity, for not only was he a “mover between many worlds” but he also stood at the end of the apostolic age and the beginning of the apologetic period of early Christianity.[1] Justin provides enough autobiographical detail in his writings to create a fairly strong outline of life and background, although the details of his birth are relatively obscure.[2] What we do know about his early life is that Justin was a gentile—possibly a Samaritan—born in Flavia Neapolis of Syria Palestine, son of Priscus and grandson of Bacchius.[3] Dialogue 1-9 recounts Justin’s education and philosophical background. After finding other philosophical schools wanting in his search for true understanding, Justin became a Platonist.[4] Even post-conversion, Justin’s thought remained largely indebted to Middle Platonic philosophy, a fact which comes across clearly in his own statements (Dial. 2.6. 1 Apol. 20. 2 Apol. 12.1) and through examination of his thought.[5] According to Justin’s telling, he encountered an “old man” who problematized his Platonism—asking how the mind can possibly know God if it has no kinship with God (Dial. 7.1-3)—and led him to recognize the necessity of the Holy Spirit and Christian faith.[6] Justin considered himself a philosopher before and after his conversion to Christianity, and he appears to have spent much of his later life instructing Christians in Rome.[7] According to The Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs, during the reign of Antoninus Pius (r. 161-169 CE) Justin and six others (presumably his students) were arrested and brought before Roman prefect Q. Junius Rusticus (r. 162-168 CE).[8] What led to this arrest remains unknown, but Justin was martyred shortly thereafter (c. 165 CE) and subsequently given the name by which he is known to this day.

[1] Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, “Introduction: Justin Martyr and His Worlds” in Justin Martyr and His Worlds (ed. S. Parvis and P. Foster, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 2.

[2] Craig D. Allert, Revelation, Truth, Canon and Interpretation: Studies in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (SupVC 64, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2002), 27. Michael Slusser, “Justin Scholarship: Trends and Trajectories” in Justin Martyr and His Worlds (ed. S. Parvis and P. Foster, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 20. Arthur J. Droge, “Justin Martyr and the Restoration of Philosophy,” Church History 9.1 (1987): 303.

[3] 1 Apol. 1.2, 53; Dial. 41.3. Justin and father’s names are Latin while his grandfather’s name. Allert, Revelation, 28. Paul Parvis, “Justin Martyr,” Expository Times 120.2 (2008): 53.

[4] On Justin’s rejection of the Stoic system of philosophy—though not every facet of Stoic thought—see Runar M. Thorsteinsson, “Justin and Stoic Cosmo-Theology,” JTS 63.2 (2012): 541-559. See also 2 Apol. 4-13. Thorsteinsson’s study reveals that “while Justin greatly admired the morality and moral integrity of (some of) the Stoics, he strongly rejected their doctrines on the nature of God as a corporeal being, on the world-cycles and conflagration, and on fate. In somewhat simplified terms, according to the Stoics, the nature of God is changeable, whereas God’s [sic] [why is the sic here?] judgment is unchangeable.” See Thorsteinsson, “Justin,” 570.

[5] Thorsteinsson, “Justin,” 533-34. Also see the following: Charles Nahm, “The Debate on the ‘Platonism’ of Justin Martyr,” SecCent 9 (1992): 129-51. Carl Andresen, “Justin und der mittlere Platonismus,” ZNW 44 (1952-3): 157-95. J. H. Waszink, “Bemerkungen zum Einfluss des Platonismus im frühen Christentum,” VC 19 (1965), 146-51. Allert, 28-9, 73-4. Erwin R. Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr: An Investigation into the Conceptions of Early Christian Literature and Its Hellenistic and Judaistic Influences (Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1968), 295-320. Rebecca Lyman, “Justin and Hellenism: Some Postcolonial Perspectives” in Justin Martyr and His Worlds (ed. S. Parvis and P. Foster, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 163-4. Slusser, 15. Droge, 304f. Tobias Georges, “Justin’s School in Rome—Reflections on Early Christian ‘Schools,’” ZAC 16 (2012): 76. Evangelia G. Dafni, “Septuaginta und Plato in Justins ‘Dialog mit Tryphon,’” Neotestamenica 43.2 (2009): 451-7. Denis Minns and Paul Parvis, Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: Apologies (Oxford and New York: OUP, 2009), 59-60n6.

[6] Allert, 152-3. Vladimir de Beer, “The Patristic Reception of Hellenic Philosophy,” SVTQ 55.4 (2012): 379-80.

[7] Georges, 75. Allert, 67.

[8] Allert, 30-1. Parvis, 59. Gianluca Piscini, “L’apologiste Justin et Usbek: une possible citation patristique dans les Lettres Persanes,ASE 32 (2015): 172.


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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: