Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho

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

Although numerous writings have been attributed to Justin throughout the years, only three extant works are believed to be authentic: the First and Second Apologies[1] and the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew.[2] While some scholars have questioned if Justin could have written apologies and a dialogue, the general consensus holds his authorship of all three.[3] The earliest manuscript of the Dialogue is Codex Parisinus Graecus 450, dated to 11 September 1363 CE.[4] As for when the Dialogue was originally written no one can say for sure. Although internal evidence suggests that the dialogue was held over two days and at a time shortly after the bar Kokhba revolt (c. 135 CE).[5] Justin’s use of sources offers no further delimitations for the date of composition,[6] a further indication that the Dialogue could have been written any time between c.135 and 165 CE.

The Dialogue was addressed to an otherwise unknown Marcus Pompeius (Dial. 141) and Justin’s chief interlocutor was Trypho, a learned “Hebrew of the circumcision and a fugitive from the war that has just ended” (Dial. 1.3).[7] But apart from these obvious addressees, for whom was the Dialogue written? Scholars have argued for three audiences. First, the Dialogue was composed for a Jewish audience, an apology for a Christian reading of the Jewish scriptures.[8] Second, the Dialogue was composed for a pagan and primarily Gentile audience, seeking to prevent their conversion to Judaism.[9] Third, Justin wrote the Dialogue for Christians, either using a liturgical style or composing for an educational setting.[10] The theory which makes the most sense of internal and external evidence posits that the Dialogue was written for a Diaspora Jewish audience in the context of Christian missions and (somewhat quickly) found wider circulation among Christians opposed to Judaism.[11]

Justin employed a four-part structure in his Dialogue with the Jews, each of which spoke to his overarching theme of “how do we know what we know,” especially about the scriptures?[12] Chapters 1-9 describe Justin’s personal search for truth and his encounter with the Hebrew prophets. Chapters 10-30 explain the Christian interpretation of the Mosaic Law.[13] Chapters 31-108 discuss the person of Jesus, the divine messiah spoken of by the prophets. Finally, chapters 109-142 offers his thesis on the fact that Gentiles in Christ are the new spiritual Israel. Throughout this work Justin reveals his concern for properly Christocentric soteriology: since the old law has become obsolete and can no longer save, all must turn to the new law of Jesus the Christ.[14] Justin’s context in hand, this paper now considers Paul, particularly the facets of his theology on the Jewish-Gentile problem with which Justin interacted.

[1] The relationship of the First and Second Apology remains debated, with some suggesting both are part of a single work, see Parvis, 57. For a general introduction to the Apologies see Parvis, 56-9.

[2] Allert, 32. Piscini, 172. In all subsequent footnotes, I recommend using an abbreviated form of the title of a previously cited work.

[3] Philippe Bobichon, “Justin martyr: ‘etude stylistique du Dialogue avec Tryphon, suivie d’une comparaison avec l’Apologie et le De resurrectione,” Researches augustiniennes et patristiques 34 (2005): 1-61. Philippe Bobichon, Justin Martyr. Dialogue avec Tryphon, edition critique, traduction, commentaire (Paradosis 47/1-2, Fribourg: Academic Press, 2003), 23-40. Slusser, 15-7.

[4] Sylvain Jean Gabriel Sanchez, “Le Manuscrit du Dialogue avec Tryphon de Justin Martyr,” BLE 103 (2002): 371. Juan Pablo Sena Pera, The Polemic Construction of Judaism at the origins of Christianity: from Paul to Justin Martyr (Ph.D. diss., Bologna: Universita di Bologna, 2015), 166. Slusser, 14. For a discussion of the manuscript history and some noteworthy text critical concerns with the Dialogue, see Sanchez, 377-82.

[5] Allert, 32-4.

[6] Justin employs both the LXX and another Greek version in his citation of the Jewish scriptures. He also knows and uses Matthew, Romans, and Galatians. Scholars have posited his use of two other sources: a “testimony source” for Jewish writings and a “kerygma source” for Christian teaching. See? Dial. 121.1. Oskar Skarsaune, The Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition: Text-Type, Provenance, Theological Profile (SuppNT 56, Leiden: Brill, 1987); idem, “The Development of Scriptural Interpretation in the Second and Third Centuries—except Clement and Origen” in Hebrew Bible, Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation I/1: Antiquity (ed. M. Saebø, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996), 373–442; idem, “Justin and His Bible,” in Justin Martyr and His Worlds (ed. S. Parvis and P. Foster, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 53–76; idem, “Jewish Christian Sources Used by Justin Martyr and Some Other Greek and Latin Fathers” in Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries (ed. O. Skarsaune and R. Hvalvik, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 380-401; and Antti Laato, “Justin Martyr Encounters Judaism” in Encounters of the Children of Abraham from Ancient to Modern Times (ed. A. Laato and P. Lindqvist, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2010), 103. See also Eusebius Eccl. Hist. 4.26.13-14.

[7] Dial. 1.3, 38.2, 120.5. Parvis, 53-4. Laato, 103. Trypho may be the R. Tarphon of Mishnaic fame.

[8] Dial. 32.2, 55.3, 64.2-3. Theodore Stylianopoulos, Justin Martyr and the Mosaic Law (SBLDS 20, Missoula, M.T.: SBL and Scholars Press, 1975), 39. Stephen G. Wilson, Related Strangers: Jews and Christians 70–170 C.E. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 264. Allert, 37-8, 57-60. Nina E. Livesay, “Theological Identity Making: Justin’s Use of Circumcision to Create Jews and Christians,” JECS 18 (2010): 51.

[9] Dial. 1-9, 23.3, 24.3, 29.1, 32.5, 64.2, 119.4, 141. Livesay, “Theological,” 52. David Rokéah, “Ancient Jewish Proselytism in Theory and in Practice,” Theologische Zeitschrift 52 (1996): 8. Claudia J. Setzer, Jewish Responses to Early Christians: History and Polemics, 30–150 C.E.. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 136. Allert, 38-53.

[10] Dial. 24.3, 29.1. Georges, 83. Livesay, “Theological,” 53. Tessa Rajak, “Talking at Trypho: Christian Apologetic as Anti Judaism in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew,’” in Apologetics in the Roman Empire: Pagans, Jews, and Christians, ed. Mark Edwards et al. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), 78. Judith M. Lieu, Image and Reality: The Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second Century (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 105. Allert, 54-7.

[11] This conclusion, of course, should raise awareness to the fact that Justin and Paul were likely writing to different ethnic audiences: Justin to Jews and Paul to Gentiles. Allert, 61. Laato, 117. See also Daniel Rebecca Sangeetha, “The Theme of ‘Exclusion’ in Rabbinic Literature, Its Interpretation and Impact of the Separation of Judaism and Christianity,” Bangalore Theological Forum 43.2 (2011): 84-5, and Alan F. Segal, “The History Boy: The Importance of Perspective in the Study of Early Judaism and Christianity” in Identity and Interaction in the Ancient Mediterranean: Jews, Christians, and Others: Essays in Honour of Stephen G. Wilson (ed. Z.A. Crook and P.A. Harland, Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007), 220.

[12] Sena Pera, 167-8. For an extensive outline of the Dialogue, see Michael J. Choi, “What is Christian orthodoxy according to Justin’s Dialogue?,” SJT 63.4 (2010): 400-1.

[13] This theme is revisited in chapters 40-47, 67, and 92-93.

[14] Allert, 169-171. Choi, 399.


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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