Book Reviews

Day Fifteen: St. Justin Martyr: First Apology, Chaps. 36-47

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 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.

You can find today’s reading on page 70 here: lentfatherscomplete.pdf

Following on from yesterday's theme of prophecy which predicts Christ, Justin explains the different types, or “modes”, of prophetic messages. From utterances which foretell the future, to speaking on behalf of the Father, he goes on to say how the Jews missed the prophecies that pointed to Jesus – even those which showed that he would be crucified; and so the Jews hate the Christians who keep showing these things from the Scriptures.

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What follows is some really interesting interpretation of prophecy in the Old Testament which not only is used to prove the power of God, but also to show that the different ways prophecies are spoken demonstrates who inspired them; ie. some are from the Father, some Christ and others, the Spirit. This in itself is demonstrating a view of the Trinity within prophecy, too.

The Father

Quoting various passage from Isaiah, Justin makes the point that when a prophecy is spoken from a “thus saith the Lord” perspective, then that is the Father speaking through the prophet; for example—

Isaiah 66:1

Thus says the Lord:
Heaven is my throne
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is my resting place?

The Son

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But those times where the prophet speaks a message of suffering, pain or sacrifice from the perspective of God, then it is Christ speaking as the pre-existing Word. He gives various examples from the Psalms and Isaiah to show this, such as:

Isaiah 50:6
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.

And,

Psalms 22:17-18
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

The Spirit

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When it is the the Spirit speaking, it appears to be prophecies which are more in the 3rd person about the Lord and what he will do. Using an example from Isaiah again, Justin gives an example of a prophecy and also goes on to explain how it has been fulfilled through Christ in the Christians who follow him:

Isaiah 2:3-4
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

I know many people today read this passage as something future and yet to be fulfilled, thinking it is speaking of a global event where all people suddenly stop making war. But Justin gives us an example of how early Christians interpreted this, and it's one I've never heard and modern preacher say:

And that it (Isa. 2:3-4) did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners

Christ’s appearance and death foretold

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Continuing with the theme of the prophetic messages, Justin goes to show more examples from the Old Testament which foretold the life of Jesus and “the conspiracy which was formed against Christ by Herod the king of the Jews, and the Jews themselves” because he “thought it right and relevant to mention some other prophetic utterances of David” and goes on to quote the whole of Psalm 2 as his proof.

Yet have I been set by Him a King on Zion His holy hill, declaring the decree of the Lord. The Lord said to Me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.

And to the death and resurrection of Jesus, he goes on to show that “through the same David, intimated that Christ, after He had been crucified, should reign” and quotes 1 Chron. 16: 23-27 and merges that with Ps. 96 to make up one long prophetic statement.

There’s an interesting bit here where Justin quotes Ps 96:10 as saying:

“Let them rejoice among the nations. The Lord hath reigned from the tree.”

Which he uses as his proof for Jesus reigning after his death. But if you look this up in a Bible now, it will say:

Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.”

Looking a little more into this, it appears that this quote in First Apology is the only ancient Greek text to have this wording, and then any other quote from Tertullian onward (~200 AD), comes purely from the The Old Latin Version (Vetus Latina Bible) translation of the Psalm, which is the Latin Bible which predated the Vulgate.

Prophecy and free will

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The rest of the chapters go through more examples of prophetic messages and the different types that can be found in the OT, such as explaining that sometimes the Spirit spoke prophecies in the past tense as though they had already happened. To avoid this being used as a reason to misrepresent the message, Justin goes on to explain that the “things which [God] absolutely knows will take place, He predicts as if already they had taken place”.

There seemed to be some who would accuse the Christians of believing in fate, and so Justin offers an argument against such thoughts to provide some kind of “prophetic responsibility”.

All of our actions, whether good or bad, whether there be rewards or chastisements; all of these are given due to man’s own actions. “Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power”, which begins the argument for freedom of will, asserting that if people are fated to do either good or bad, then the one is no more deserving of reward than the other is of punishment.

And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions

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He goes on to make the argument that if fate decides how people act, then it is fate which is the cause of evil, and not people, and this is not how God has made mankind to be. To borrow from the terminology of “fate”, Justin makes one final point that there is one thing in which the Christians “assert is inevitable fate” – that those who choose good, will be rewarded, and those who choose evil will be punished. By this, prophecy is not nullified by free will, and free will is not overcome by prophecy, but that all which God spoke through his prophets concerning rewards or punishments for the actions of the human race, are still valid foretellings even with freedom of will, because as “God spoke thus to the man first created: ‘Behold, before thy face are good and evil: choose the good.’” The choice is there and the foretelling is that of the outcome of our choices.

A couple more topics are covered briefly, such as those who lived before Christ and how salvation affects them (basically it does because Jesus was the pre-existing Word), and Christ ruling from heaven and the prediction of Judea being made desolate, fulfilling Isa. 64:10.

Even though this has been a long post and not as brief as I maybe would have liked to keep it, since there was a lot of topics covered, I thought that it would be an injustice to skip on these things since they are central to some of our understanding of Christ and his relation to being the prophetic fulfillment of the Scriptures. I recommend that you read the original text of today’s chapters to really get an understanding of what Justin was saying and drawing out in order to clarify Christian doctrine.

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