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.
Justin continues his defense of the Christian faith to the Caesars by comparing the story of Jesus to other Greek and Roman myths. He shows an incredible knowledge of Roman culture. He shows how virgin birth, sacrificial death, and ascension into the heavens are not foreign the worldview of the Romans.
He then turns the argument to his benefit. He says that he is not quoting these stories to validate them. He is showing that this is not out of the question, but ultimately these stories are false and Christianity is true. What we find here is evidence of the early churches involvement in cultural engagement. Early Christians including Justin used the stories that those around them were familiar with in order to communicate the gospel.
Justin moves on and spends some time mentioning heretics and how they are not true representations of Christianity. He points out both Simon Magus and Marcion to give evidence of this.
Justin finishes up this section showing how christian morality is actually more beneficial to the state than paganism. He points to some of the excesses that go on in the name of religion as evidence against them.
In chapter 30 he begins to introduce the topic of Christology, which we will get into next week.
Justin continues to defend Christianity to the Roman Caesars in chapters 11-20. The bulk of this section is dedicated to clearing up exactly what Jesus taught and how these teachings dovetail with good, Roman citizenship. Justin mentions Christ teachings on lust, divorce, patience, not entering into oaths, and even civil obedience. All of these teachings are from the Gospels, especially Matthew. It is clear that Justin had access to the writings of the Evangelist and considered them trustworthy. This is very helpful in our defense of the scripture today against those (e.g. Ehrman, Dan Brown, and others). Very early on, the Christian church took the Gospels as true and valid.
Justin also begins his defense of resurrection in these chapters. He makes an argument from nature and an argument from common religion. He draws data in from a couple of sources to make his point.
By far, the most interesting part of this section is found in chapter XI. In this chapter Justin answers the charge against Christians that they are seditious. The early persecutors accused Christians of wanting to overthrow Rome and establish another kingdom. Justin does an excellent job defending Christians and in doing so, gives a great lesson to the modern church.
Justin’s response to the charge of sedition is this: If we were truly seeking to overthrow Rome, why would we gladly be martyred in the name of Christ? This is certainly not the way of the subversive and seditious. If the Christians were seeking political upheaval, they should have denied Christ and continued to work behind the scenes to bring Rome down. Only they didn’t deny Christ. They gladly gave their bodies to the flames.
This is instructive for many believers today. We have confused the idea of Christ Kingdom coming to this earth with our efforts to make our nation look like Christ Kingdom. We are seeking a different, better city. One whose foundation is not made by human hands. This doesn’t mean that we retreat from the world, but it also does mean that when things don’t go our way politically, we are still OK. God is still sovereign, just as he was when Justin was defending Christians against the Roman Government, bent on persecution.
The First Apology of Justin: chapters I-X
The first work that I am making my way through is Justin’s First Apology. This letter was written to Caesar and his sons. The letter is primarily a defense of Christians and a plea to end the persecution of the Believers.
Justin uses a couple of arguments to advance his case. First he says that it is illogical to persecute Christians because they call themselves Christians. He asks that men be tried on the basis of what they have done, not on the basis of what they call themselves. In the midst of this he quotes Plato and shows a strong knowledge of Pauline Literature.
In fact, the centerpiece of this argument is borrowed from Philemon. Justin uses a play on words between the words Chistos and chraestos. The first word is the name of Christ and the basis of the word, “Christian”. The second is a word meaning goodness or excellence. Paul used a very similar argument in Philemon about the slave Onesimus. Paul said that before Onesimus believed he was a-chraestos, or useless. This is a contrast to a-Chirstos, or without Christ. But since believing, he has become eu-chistos or useful/well-christed. This word also sounds like eucharist or thankful. All this to say that it is clear that Justin was well acquainted with the works of Paul, even a smaller one like Philemon.
Paul then defends Christians against the charge that they are atheist because they refuse to worship the Greek/Roman gods. Justin explains that these so called gods are nothing more than demons trying to distract mankind from the one true God who revealed himself in Jesus. Here again Justin shows himself to be familiar with the writings of Paul. This is the same argument Paul made about meat offered to idols.
So what can we take away from our early readings of Justin?
First, it is clear that Justin was very well read. He quoted Plato/Socrates, referenced the apostle Paul, and made a complex and poetic play on words
Second, Justin was fond of using the actions of Christians as a defense of the faith. He used logic but only so far as it lead the reader to the life of the Christians. This is interesting and instructive for us. Though he could of, Justin does not engage in classical or evidential apologetics. He uses them, but in the end, he is arguing from an embedded apologetic. The way that Christians treat one another and those outside their faith is the greatest apologetic in Justin’s argument so far. Cornelius Van Til would be proud of the sort of Presuppositional Apologetics Justin is engaging in.