The Letters of Paul in Justin Martyr (Part 2)

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

Justin also develops his reading of the Old Testament beyond Paul, for many of Justin’s glosses on these passage emphasize the separateness of Christ-followers and Jews because of belief in Christ as the Messiah.[1] In the interpretation of the scriptures—especially Old Testament theophanies—exegetical conflict arises between Christians and Jews, a conflict which for Justin must be settled by appeal to Christ.[2] Furthermore, Paul’s question of “should Gentiles follow the Jewish law in order to be saved?” remains a concern, but in Justin’s mind, those living post-Christ no longer attribute any wholesomeness to the Mosaic Law (Dial. 47).[3] Thus, in Justin’s use of the Jewish scriptures we may trace a clear development from Paul. Although he begins by using many of the same scriptural passages as Paul and interprets them Christocentrically, Justin takes the additional steps of locating exegetical disagreement between the Messiah and the Mosaic Law.

How then does Paul function for Justin in the Dialogue? A fair characterization seems to make Paul an important yet mutable source for Justin’s thought. That is, Justin employed Pauline language and themes as a foundation and then constructed his own theological interpretation on that base. In contrast to perspectives which argue Paul was the formative influence for Justin,[4] it seems more likely that he viewed the Apostle as one source among many which formed the regula fide, albeit an authority who had lots to say about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Themes which were connected in Paul (such as the association of circumcision and righteousness) could be severed by Justin (who speaks of both righteousness and circumcision, but not together).[5] It appears that Justin was not interested in reading Paul on Paul’s own terms. Rather, he was looking for strands of thought concerning various topics which he could resource and employ against Trypho. In sum, Justin knew and used Paul as a source for constructing his theology but not without leaving open the possibility of transforming Paul’s arguments.

[1] Adair, 217.

[2] Bogdan C. Bucur, “Justin Martyr’s Exegesis of Biblical Theophanies and the Parting of the Ways between Judaism and Christianity,” Theological Studies 75 (2014): 35. Adair, 192.

[3] See Benjamin L. White, “Justin between Paul and the Heretics: The Surprising Salvation of Gentile Christian Judaizers in Dialogue with Trypho 47.” Under Review. Online.

[4] Adair, 229-30.

[5] Dial. 23.4-5. Livesay, “Theological,” 69-70. See also Rensberger, 187-9.


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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