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

Christ-Follower. Married to Hayley. Father of Bree. PhD student in Historical Theology at Saint Louis University (19). Love Reading, Thinking, and Blogging.

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