Day Fourteen: St. Justin Martyr: First Apology, Chaps. 24-35
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.
When: Around 156 AD
Each chapter or so in this apology deals with a different area of Christian doctrine, with somewhat 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, though not necessarily cover everything written in each chapter.
Persecution and false gods
...and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
This next part of the apology really shows the truth of Jesus's words here. Justin continues on from the thought in the previous chapter (yesterday’s reading) about how the things which Christians believe are not far off from what the Greek say and believe, yet despite this, they are still “hated on account of the name of Christ”. Even though the Greeks worship some animals which others will hunt and eat, and that there is no consensus on which animals are gods and which are food, these people can still worship freely without fear, but Christians are persecuted and threatened with death simply for being called as such.
He then goes on to outline the various different gods and magicians that the Greeks believed in and how in all their various and blasphemous ways, yet all under one name or doctrine, they are still free from threat. But even in spite of death, Christians will still worship Jesus because through him they have learned to despise and reject these false gods and demons.
Guilt of harming children
Justin condemns the practices of “exposing children” – which in this context seems to mean sexually abusing them. He explains that Christians have “been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men” and to harm any child is to sin against God himself. As the people of old would herd cattle and raise animals for a purpose, so these children “are brought up to prostitution”; like animals they “rear children only for this shameful use”!
Justin paints a terrible sounding picture of his contemporary society, in which the people “commit unmentionable iniquities” and in their lust, “may possibly be having intercourse with his own child, or relative, or brother”. The level of prostitution sounds like it is in connection with the temples and worship of false gods, which they were selling the children and own wives into. He mentions that those “whom you esteem gods there is painted a serpent” which Justin uses to lead into his next point that “the prince of the wicked spirits is called the serpent, and Satan, and the devil” bolstering his previous arguments that the “gods” are in fact demons.
Proofs of Christ’s power and status from prophecy
This chapter, and the ones that follow, aim to defend the true power and status of Christ, and dismiss the claim that Jesus performed his “mighty works by magical art, and by this appeared to be the Son of God”, and was thus only a mere man empowered by demons.
To do this, Justin gives a very brief look at the prophets of old who foretold of this coming, healing power and that he would die and rise again, saying that He was foretold by all the major prophets down through the generations, and specifically prophesied about coming by Moses, “the first of the prophets”. After giving a brief overview of Jesus’ birth and how it fulfills the Isaiah prophecy (Isa. 7:14), it is explained, quite strongly, that the virgin conceived a child not through any such lust (as the Greek god Jupiter did), but by the power of God that “overshadowed” Mary got her pregnant.
The explanations make me think about the time Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to all of the Scriptures and prophecies concerning him:
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
Citing more prophecies, Justin goes on to tell how even the place where Jesus would be born was predicted and offers an interesting tidbit of historical proof by telling the Emperor that he “can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius” that Jesus was, in fact, born in Bethlehem.
Closing his argument and proofs for Jesus being the true Son of God, the incarnate Word, and not simply a man, Justin quotes from Isaiah again, and also the Psalms, to show that even Jesus’ death was predicted, down to the nails in his hands and feet (Ps 22:16). Interestingly, as further proof to this claim, he tells the Emperor that he can look up the facts of the crucifixion and see “that these things did happen” because he “can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate” what took place. What’s intriguing about this is that this book which is referenced is known to of spurious origins, with various later forgeries created to discredit Christians even! If you’re interested, you can read the scholarly debate in brief in the intro text to the book itself here: earlychristianwritings.com/actspilate.html.
Come back tomorrow where Justin continues with the theme of prophecy to further show proofs for Christ being the true manifest Word of God.