Book Reviews

Day Seventeen: St. Justin Martyr: First Apology, Chaps. 60-68

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 84 here: lentfatherscomplete.pdf

So we come to the final chapters of Justin Martyr's first apology, and what an interesting and lengthy read it has been!

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These final chapters move on from prophecies about Christ, and cover a few other areas of Christian doctrine and belief, such as: baptism, the Eucharist and weekly worship among other things.

Plato and The Trinity

The first chapter of this reading today concludes from the previous few about the prophetic announcement of Jesus and how even “heathens” recognise the things God has put in place, even without realising it. Case in point here, Plato.

As touched on yesterday, Plato mentions in his work, Timoeus of Plato, about “the Son of God” being placed “crosswise” in the universe, which Justin goes on to say that although Plato misunderstood the symbolism of the cross from the writings of Moses, which he “borrowed in like manner”, he inadvertently recognises the Trinity.

Plato does this by saying that the “power next to the first God” which was placed crosswise is second, and then speaks of a third, the Spirit of God, because he read that he “moved over the waters” from Moses (Gen 1:2).

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But despite this, Justin closes his argument by reiterating his previous point that because Moses predates all the Greek thinkers and writers, what Christians preach, no matter how similar sounding it is to certain Greek fables and myths, is imitation.

It is not, then, that we hold the same opinions as others, but that all speak in imitation of ours.

Baptism

There's a short overview of the rite of baptism and how that what Jesus preached about being born again in John 3:5, was also prophesied by Isaiah:

Isaiah 1:16-20

Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.

From this, Justin talks about those who get baptised “are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated … and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed” – something they have “learned from the apostles”, which bears a striking resemblance to what Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:21 —

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

Baptismal regeneration is something most, if not all, churches would teach against today, and find ways to reinterpret 1 Peter, so I find this section particularly interesting as an early teaching.

Imitation by demons

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Following on with baptism, Justin goes on to say that due to Isaiah prophesying this, the demons knew what to imitate in the temples to false gods, who would have all their worshippers sprinkled with water on entering and fully immersed on the way out, and also have them remove their shoes as Moses did at the burning bush when “Christ conversed with him under the appearance of fire”. This too shows an early example of how Christians viewed the “nameless God [who] spoke to Moses” in light of the revelation of Christ, the Logos, typically called a “Christophany”.

How God appeared to Moses

A Christophany is a theological term to mean they those times the old testament says God appeared somewhere or did something, it was actually Jesus, the first-begotten Word of God, [who] is even God”.

Jesus is called Angel and Apostle; for He declares whatever we ought to know

Encouraging anyone who wants to know more about this, Justin says that reading the writings of Moses is the place to go;

But so much is written for the sake of proving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and His Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing sometimes in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels; but now, by the will of God, having become man for the human race.  

The Eucharist

This chapter gives us a glimpse at how the early church took Communion together and what it meant for them. Only baptised believers were allowed to partake. Prayers of “considerable length” were then first offered to bless the bread and wine, which upon conclusion, everyone would “salute one another with a kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26) before the “bread and a cup of wine mixed with water” was handed out to everyone present by the deacons. Even if some were absent, a portion was kept and hand-delivered to those who were away!

It would seem that Justin is teaching either an early form of transubstantiation, or the doctrine of the Real Presence here, in that he compares the Word becoming “flesh and blood for our salvation” as the reason why the bread and wine “is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” — something which the Mithras cult copied, apparently.

Weekly worship

A description follows about how Christians met together to pray and worship on a weekly basis, every Sunday. It's nice to see that some things haven't changed much in over two millennia!

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The reason for it being on a Sunday and not the Sabbath is because of the prevailing belief that the world was brought into being on Sunday in the very beginning, and then also the world was again changed on a Sunday when “Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead”.

This is how “church” looked back in Justin Martyr's time:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen … And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.

Conclusion

Justin concludes his Apology the Emperor by pleading that, “if these things seem to you to be reasonable and true, honour them; but if they seem nonsensical, despise them as nonsense, and do not decree death against those who have done no wrong” and again urges him to act justly or risk facing the judgement of God.

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That's all from Justin Martyr! It's been a very lengthy but informative read that's for sure, offering some very interesting insights into the lives and beliefs of the early Christians.

Tomorrow we move into a new letter!

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