Book Reviews

Day Thirteen: St. Justin Martyr: First Apology, Chaps. 12-23

Who: Justin Martyr was a Philosopher who converted to Christianity and became a tireless evangelist and apologist. Justin wrote more Christianity than any other person prior to his time. He is classified herein as Eastern, since he a native of Samaria and his thought patterns were Eastern. However, he spent the last years of his life in Rome, where he was executed as a martyr (c. 165).

What: An apologetic (defence) essay to explain what Christians believe and do.

Why: Justin is demanding the Emperor to investigate accusations and unjust persecution against Christians so that they at least may face a fair trial.

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When: Around 156 AD

Each chapter or so in this apology deals with a different area of Christian doctrine, with succinct compact arguments for the reality of what is believed and accepted. I’m going to try and summarise as much as I can and pull out any points which stand out.

Living Righteously

Chapter twelve kicks off straight into a long dialogue about the righteousness of Christians and how they are the Emperor's “helpers and allies in promoting peace” due to their very nature and lifestyle in following Christ. Everyone is under God's watchful eye, Justin argues, no one can “escape the notice of God”, and because of this, “each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions”.

The point he's trying to make is that if everyone understood this, they should be more inclined to live a virtuous life before God, and that is what the Christians preach. They are not wrongdoers, but rather are trying to counter that behaviour, and if the Emperor honestly valued the truth and wanted to uphold his reputation for “piety and philosophy” he would act reasonably, unless of course he, “like the foolish, prefer custom to truth”! Justin didn't mince his words at all.

A Rational Faith

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Continuing with the argument for acting rationally towards Christians, Justin outlines how the faith in which they profess, is in actuality, a rational faith.

Before giving an explanation for this, he outlines the history of Christ; that he born for a purpose and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and how they learned he was the Son of God to be worshipped.

…we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all

Demonic Influences

This is the start of misunderstanding, and Justin goes on to explain how it is the demons he previously mentioned (see yesterday's reading) that go about misrepresenting the Christian faith, but in reality, Christians are changed people and the evil and wicked things they once did and loved, they now do the opposite of:

…we who formerly delighted in fornication, but now embrace chastity alone … we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common stock…

But in case it would seem that he is “reasoning sophistically”, Justin wants to present quotes from Christ's teaching to prove that “He was no sophist, but His word was the power of God”!

For clarity, since words have changed meaning over time or fallen into disuse, being a “sophist” and speaking “sophistically” was a form of teaching and arguing in Greek philosophy and was a way of reasoning with clever, but false arguments, that just sounded good – whether or not they were accurate was besides the point.

The Teachings of Jesus

Justin lists out a whole page full of quotes from Jesus, all of which we’d recognise from the Gospels, from his teachings on looking at a women with lust, to divorce, to praying for your enemies to not worrying about life. It’s a nice summary of Jesus’ moral teachings on the way in which we should strive to live, which Justin then follows on from with more of Jesus’ teaching on responding to violence and in swearing oaths saying, “[Jesus] has exhorted us to lead all men, by patience and gentleness, from shame and the love of evil” by which it is proved because many men who were like the Emperor “have changed their violent and tyrannical disposition” because of the examples of Christians.

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After all of this, Justin then seeks to clarify the difference between those who are Christians in name only, to those who really are followers of Jesus by quoting Matthew 7:21-23 and saying, “let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood to be no Christians” and in an unexpected turn, he rounds off this section by essentially giving the Emperor permission, actually demanding, to punish those who “are not living pursuant to these His teachings, and are Christians only in name”!

Civil Obedience

Quoting more from Jesus, Justin makes the point that “everywhere we, more readily than all men, endeavour to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Him (Jesus)”, quoting Matthew 22:19-21 to back up the point and goes on to say that as well, Jesus taught them to pray for their rulers, which they do, but that if those rulers “pay no regard to our prayers and frank explanations”, then it’s no loss to the Christians since they are convinced that the wicked will suffer eternal consequences.

The Resurrection

This one is interesting as Justin contrasts the spiritual powers that the Emperor will be familiar with from his own divinations, oracles, magi and “Dream-senders and Assistant-spirits (Familiars)” to prove the point that “even after death souls are in a state of sensation” and thus there is an afterlife worth considering. He goes on to say that because these practitioners of divinations etc are granted favours, that the Christians should also be granted the same because they “more firmly” believe in God, “since we expect to receive again our own bodies”.

The resurrection is something which seems to be a sticking point to accept, but they “maintain that with God nothing is impossible” and goes on to contrast the way in which they will be planted like seeds in the ground through death, so that in the future they will come up with new bodies. To try and explain this concept even more, the resurrection is contrasted with “human seed” (ie. sperm);

[If I] were to show you human seed and a picture of a man, and were to say with confidence that from such a substance such a being could be produced, would you believe before you saw the actual production?

Basically, if you’d never known human growth, and someone showed you a drop of fluid and a photo of an adult and said one produced the other, would you believe it if you hadn’t already witnessed it to be true? In the same way then, the resurrection happens, and it can only be accepted by those who are willing to believe something which seems impossible, and then “in God's appointed time [they will] rise again and put on incorruption”.

Elements of Truth in Greek Philosophy and Poetry

Now, Justin lists out a few known poets and philosophers of which the Emperor would be familiar with, saying that even these people teach certain aspects which are similar to Christian doctrine; such as, the world was created and arranged by God, as Plato taught; that the souls of the departed are conscious and the wicked ones punished, which the righteous rewarded, they say similar to the poets and philosophers etc. So now he asks that if “on some points we teach the same things as the poets and philosophers whom you honour”, and in some cases go beyond what they say to greater things, “why are we unjustly hated more than all others?”.

Further to this argument, Justin then contrasts the history and life of Christ with the Roman gods, such as Jupiter and Mercury, to say that in those accounts the Romans accepts such wonders like virgin births and miraculous healing, so then why should it be so hard to accept that Jesus, though born a man, was in fact the begotten Son of God, the Word (logos) made flesh?

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Justin closes off his argument to prove that Jesus is superior to these other gods because “what has been taught us by Christ, and by the prophets who preceded Him, are alone true, and are older than all the writers who have existed” which was proven by the Word becoming a man to teach these things “for the conversion and restoration of the human race”.

He again mentions about the demonic influences which have had their way through the Greek poets to slander the Christian name and doctrines, to which he will defend next in the following chapters. This is what we will look at tomorrow!

 

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