So last week, I left you with the question of whether or not Justin was a presuppositionalist. In one way, the question was a trap. Though we can see seeds of Justin’s thoughts in his testimony, as we march through Justin’s most extensive work we will be able to piece together his method better. This week we pick up his discussion with Trypho in chapter 11.
Justin argues that Christ has come and abrogated the Law of the Old Testament and replaced it with the New Covenant in Christ. This covenant is not for Jews alone but for the whole world and we see that even pagans are leaving their former ways and being saved by Christ. Justin then turns the screws on Trypho saying that Jews ignore the eternal Law of God by ignoring Christ. Justin says, with a stroke of brilliance, that Trypho needs another, greater circumcision. To further this point, Justin quotes the entirety of Isaiah 53.
Like a master surgeon, Justin graciously but firmly asserts that Trypho and the Jews are holding up their physical circumcision as praiseworthy before God. Justin points out that baptism and circumcision are alike in that they point towards an inward reality. If that inward reality is absent, the outward signs are ineffective. Justin says that all Judaism that doesn’t point to Christ is guilty of this empty externalism.
Justin finishes up our passage by explaining to Trypho the reason for the Laws of the Old Testament. He claims that the entire Law was a means of keeping God before the eyes of the people of Israel. The real failure on behalf of the Jews was to understand this.
It is interesting to see how Justin’s thoughts on the Law of God are fairly nuanced, even at this early time in church history. With regard to Justin’s apologetic method, it is difficult to draw any strong conclusions. Justin argues almost exclusively from scripture (so far). While it would be easy to try and pigeon-hole his method, we must remember that he is confronting a Jew and is doing so with a common authority.
Justin’s longest work was the account of a conversation he had with a Jewish man named Trypho. Trypho had fled Israel shortly before the Roman occupation and war. He was currently living in Corinth and approached Justin because of his clothes. In the ancient Greek culture it was customary for a philosopher to wear a certain gown. Justin, in the First Apology, explained how he continued to wear this garb after his conversion. It appeared to be just the conversation starter that Trypho needed.
Justin begins to answer Trypho’s question about God by describing his training. Justin had studied under a Stoic, a Peripatetic (the walking philosophers), interviewed with a Pythagorean (who rejected him for not having a broad enough knowledge of music, astronomy, and geometry), and finally a Platonist.
He then tells Trypho a story of a time he was spending some time alone in a field near the see. As he sat there alone, he was approached by an old man. He and the old man got into a conversation, which Justin recounts to Trypho. The man spends a great deal of time politely poking wholes in Justin’s philosophy. Eventually Justin gets to the point that he says, “what, should no man ever employ a teacher?”. The old man had him. He responded to Justin’s despair by pointing to something greater. The old man goes on to explain that the prophets of old spoke by the Holy Spirit to point to Christ and his coming. The old man leaves Justin to ponder these things and left. Justin said he never saw the man again.
Justin goes on to explain to Trypho how something changed in him as the Old man spoke to him. He felt like there was a fire in his chest. He briefly tells of his conversion, which causes Trypho and his friends to laugh. They mock Justin’s belief in the Messiah of God.
Justin and Trypho dismiss the rowdy friends and Justin lays out many, if not all of the objections to Christianity and asks Trypho which of them he agrees with. Trypho tells Justin that he has read the Gospels and that He has two problems with Christians: they do not keep the Law of the Old Testament and they don’t live up to the lofty expectations of the Gospels.
I will have to say, that of all of Justin’s writings so far, this has been the most engaging and easiest to understand. I think that the most significant thing is the way the old man dealt with Justin. He simply backed Justin into a corner where he was forced to admit that he didn’t know everything. Then he pointed to the scriptures. This seems like a much more sensible apologetic than many Christians employ today.
If you have the time, I would love for you to read Justin’s dialogue with Trypho (the first 4 chapters) and answer this question: Was Justin a proto-presuppositionalist?
Justin’s second apology is a letter to the Roman Senate. It begins be recounting the reign of a certain city ruler named Urbicus. Under Urbicus, a divorce case escalated into the martyrdom of three Christians, one of whom was a city councilman. Justin then turns his attention to a man named Crescens who has been accusing him. Crescens, however, refuses to appeal the charges to Rome, even though Justin has suggested it.
Justin then launches into a defense of why Christians don’t commit suicide, despite the fact that they unflinchingly give themselves in martyrdom. Justin continues his defense of Christianity comparing it to the teaching of the Stoics and Socrates.
Justin finishes this short letter with an explanation of the Christian view of death and an appeal to the Imperial Senate to publish this letter and consider its contents.
What is the most striking about this much shorter defense of Christianity is the doctrinal complexity mixed with simplicity. On some issues, Justin’s theology is very elementary. His discussion of free-will is not only devoid of the trappings of two millennia of debate, from Augustine v. Pelagius to James White v. Dave Hunt; but it also lacks much interaction between God’s Will and humans’s will. At the same time, Justin’s doctrine of Common Grace, truth, and the relationship between Christ and general revelation is very well developed. Justin could jump into many modern debates on epistemology (study of how we know what we know). He lays out a very complex Christian view of knowledge in chapter 10 in particular.
Justin concludes his letter to the Emperor with some explanations of certain rituals that the church engaged in.
Chapter 67, the last of this section provides a general order of worship for church and the chapters leading up to it fill in the details. There are some strong similarities to our worship and administration of the sacraments to the ways Justin describes. There are, however, some differences.
With regard to baptism, Justin seems to advocate a “Believer’s Baptism” position, similar to the position of modern day Baptist and Non-denominational churches. (Incidentally, this was not the opinion of all of the earliest church fathers. See: Polycarp) Justin goes to great lengths explaining that only the illuminated undergo the rite of baptism. Justin uses the term “illumination” roughly like we would use the term “redemption” or “being saved”. He also seems to imply that only those who have had their sins forgiven can rightly understand the writings of scripture. He also shows how false religions copy or subvert baptism. In this section, he makes a comment that it is false to say that you must be “totally washed” in order for baptism to be effective. This may be a reference to the way baptism was conducted, but it is unclear.
Justin also goes into detail on Communion, which he calls the Eucharist. Here the early church and the modern church are very similar. Communion is only conducted by the Pastor (who he calls the President) and it is only available to those who have been baptized. The one difference is that when they are done, they take the “leftovers” to those who were absent from the meeting.
Justin concludes his letter and attaches a number of other things written about Christians by significant Romans. One of these letters is written by Caesar Marcus Aurelius. The Caesar recounts a story of when he was leading a battle in Germany. His town was besieged by savages and they were running low on water. After a while, the Christians prayed and immediately it began rain on the Romans and hail on the savages. He concludes,
“Founding upon this, then, let us pardon such as are Christians, lest they pray for and obtain such a weapon against us”.
Chapters 41-50 of the First Apology continue on the same topics that have permeated the apology so far. Justin continues to show how the Old Testament predicted details of Christ life. In these chapters, he mentions Christ reign from heaven, his work on the earth, his rejection by the Jews, and many details of his passion.
In the midst of all of this, I want to point out a few things that he says that are noteworthy. First, Justin quickly, in chapter 43, distinguishes the Christian notion of prophecy and sovereignty from the pagan notion of fatalism. Fatalism says that everything that is going to happen is already fated and their is no point in activity. This is a bleak worldview. It is the ultimate resignation. Many people look at the Christian doctrines of sovereignty and take something like this away. Justin’s argument is the proper and biblical one: Though God is sovereign, man is still responsible for his actions. What we do matters. We Re determinist, not fatalist.
The second thing that Justin says is that all those who acted reasonably before the coming of Christ were in fact Christians despite the fact that they may not have claimed his name. Justin does not expound this a great deal, but in chapter 46 he teeters dangerously close to an odd form of inclusivism. It is something akin to CS Lewis’s implication that if you served a false God out of a pure heart, you were actually serving the true God. This can be a bit problematic, when we compare it to then light of scripture. Those who lived before Christ wee saved my faith that the messiah would come, not reasonable living. Here Justin seemed to have allowed his philosophical bias to get the best of him.
Justin shows his knowledge of the Old Testament and New Testament extensively in chapters 31-40. The entire passage follows the logic and progression of Stephen’s speech before he is stoned in Jerusalem.
The progression is the same that most biblical theologians would use as well. It is a picture of redemption that starts in Genesis. Justin does an excellent job walking through the prophecies of the Old testament chronologically and systematically.
He mentions the prophecy of Judah’s Staff, the virgin birth, Bethlehem, and crucifixion.
In the end he uses Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 to sum up the way that a Christian should live in light of the coming of Christ.
What is most striking about this passage is how contemporary it seems. If you cleaned the language up a bit and told me it was written 20 years ago, I would completely believe you. It is that similar to the way many in the Reform church present the Gospel. And that is a very good thing.