Building on the Foundation: Justin Martyr

Though many more examples exist within Scripture pointing toward nonviolence (and my Genocidal God series will examine some of the OT examples I have), we need to give some credit to the Early Church for their works pushing us toward a nonviolent, non-militaristic doctrine. Most protestants don’t know much about the Early Church beyond the Scriptures. It’s an intensely rich heritage we’ve largely ignored, attributing such people to just being the saints of the Catholic Church as if they had nothing to say to us in our circles! So, to start the show, let’s look at one of my favorite church fathers: Justin Martyr.

Justin was born in what is now modern day Palestine to pagan parents.  While trying to find a good philosophical school to join (he checked out the Stoics, Peripatetics, and the Pythagoreans), Justin stumbled into Platonism, which seemed to give a good understanding of who God really is.  He met an old man one day while walking on the beach, who talked to him about his newfound philosophy. He asked questions, demonstrating how men like Plato were contradictory in their views on spiritual matters, therefore not having any ability to lead anyone to truth.  Justin, at a loss, did not know where to turn.  The old man then told him of Jesus Christ and His teachings.  Justin converted, influenced further by the fearlessness of Christians being executed.

At this point, Justin donned the garb of a philosopher, and began to travel about teaching, even starting his own school.  During these travels, he met a Jewish man named Trypho, with whom he had a rather lengthy dialogue as to the divinity of Christ and his title as Messiah.  The dialogue ended with Trypho and friends being unconvinced, though the Dialogue was recorded and stands as one of the first post-Pauline apologies for the Christian faith (not like “Im sorry” apology; the Greek word apologia means “reason,” so this is effectively a proof for Christianity). This dialogue would inspire others to defend Christianity logically, including Irenaeus of Lyons. Many would borrow from the Dialogue to supplement their own.

Now, let’s get on to his last name there: Martyr.  Obviously not a last name, but a title. Yes, Justin was martyred, along with a group of other Christians, for his refusal to sacrifice to the Emperor. Here we actually find another two of his surviving works, Apology 1 and 2, which were letters written to the Roman Emperor defending Christianity’s right to exist as a religion. In it, he posits that Christians are the greatest patriots the Roman Empire has ever seen because they pray to the one true God.  He also speaks of how all of them were once liars, murderers, and harmful to their fellow man, but in coming to Christ, they have learned to love their fellow man and forego violence.  Justin sought to demonstrate that Christians were not a threat to the Emperor as a political rebellion, nor some group that just plain hated the Roman empire.  No, Christians were showing a new way to live, a better one, something that even the Emperor could come to know.  However, it cost Justin his life.

Justin stands as a great example to all Christians for several reasons:

1) He sought God earnestly, not just through some emotional high, but by reason and truth, something people are less inclined to really search for these days.  We don’t like to admit just how little we really know, and the search for truth is dying each day.

2) He defended God with reason.  Many Christians today believe such a thing isn’t possible, when, in fact, an entire branch of theology exists known as apologetics, which works to give reason for faith.  Sometimes, I think the average Christian fears studying such things because they don’t want their doubts and fears to become reality, that God doesn’t exist, or that He isn’t benevolent. Reason and good study, however, can bring strength to faith, as well as aid to assuage doubts in those who present them.

3) He acknowledges the change that occurs not just in individual Christians but in the communal sense as well, that faith in God brings them to share their wealth, to swear off violence, and to reach out to those around them.  The compassionate love placed within them moves them to love even their enemies, and to not fear the persecution of the empire.

For further reading on Justin Martyr, check out his Wiki page, or if you want to read some of his own works, go here.  Honestly, we need to begin reading Early Church Writings again, so we can gain greater insight to the scripture from a source closer to its authorship.

Thanks guys! Have a good one!

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2 thoughts on “Building on the Foundation: Justin Martyr

  1. I admire much about Justin, “admirable” as Irenaeus calls him, but I think he did the Jewishness of our faith a disservice by “baptizing” Plato. This sees its earliest culmination in Clement of Alexandria…and it just kinda hurts.

    That said, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, and Irenaeus are amazing. Additionally, I think you would enjoy Athenagoras.

    • I agree. Platonism has infected much of our theology and really misses what the writers of Scripture meant. We often read with the wrong perspective.

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