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Justin Martyr

 

Philosopher Turned Evangelist (c. 100 - 165)

A few decades after the Apostle John's death, a young philosopher named Justin embarked on a spiritual journey to find truth. One day, while he was walking to his accustomed place of meditation in a secluded field overlooking the Mediterranean, he noticed an old man walking at a distance behind him. Wanting to be left alone, he turned and stared with annoyance at the elderly man. However, the old man, who turned out to be a Christian, struck up a conversation and learned that Justin was a philosopher. The old man then began to ask Justin some soul-searching questions, helping Justin to see the deficiency of human philosophy.

As Justin later reminisced, "When the old man had spoken these and many other things, he left, encouraging me to think about what he had said. I've never seen him since, but immediately a flame was kindled in my soul. I was overwhelmed by a love for the prophets and the friends of Christ. After pondering over the things the old man had said, I realized that Christianity was the only true and worthwhile philosophy."

After becoming a Christian, Justin continued to wear his philosopher's robe to symbolize that he had found the one true philosophy. In fact, he became an evangelist; especially to pagan philosophers. He proved to be a gifted evangelist, bringing many Romans—”learned and unlearned”—to conversion. During Justin's life, Christianity was an outlawed religion. Justin realized, however, that much of the persecution resulted from false rumors about Christians. He felt that if the government knew the truth about Christians, it might halt its savage persecution. So at the risk of his own life, Justin penned an apology, addressing it to Emperor Antoninus Pius.

In the end, Justin's witness for Christ did cost him his life. A group of philosophers plotting against him had him arrested and sentenced to death. Choosing to die rather than to renounce Christ, Justin was executed in about 165 A.D. After his death, he became known as Justin the Martyr, or simply Justin Martyr.

Apart from the inspired New Testament writings, Justin's 1st Apology is perhaps the single most valuable work of early Christianity. It furnishes detailed descriptions of church services, baptism, and the Lord's Supper. These descriptions are among the earliest we have. The value of this apology is enhanced by the fact that it was not written by some "church father" trying to tell the church what to teach or how to conduct its worship services. Instead, it was simply written by an evangelist explaining to the Romans what Christians believed and how they conducted their meetings. Throughout his work, Justin repeatedly uses the expression, "We have been taught... ." He was not the teacher; he was simply relating what he and other Christians had learned.

Justin's Knowledge of Scripture

One of the more impressive things about Justin is his thorough knowledge of Scripture. In his First Apology alone, Justin quotes more than 155 Bible verses. That may not seem very remarkable, except that he quotes entirely from memory. Justin's grasp of the Bible is almost unbelievable. In his apology, he deftly rattles off prophecy after prophecy from the Old Testament. Even though quoting from memory, he nearly always attributes these prophecies to the correct persons. Many of his quotations follow almost verbatim the Greek Septuagint text, the standard translation used by the early Christians.
Of course, since he wrote entirely from memory, Justin occasionally attributes a verse to the wrong prophet or makes a minor historical error. For example, he refers to Jethro as being Moses' uncle instead of his father-in-law. Yet such errors are remarkably few.

Philosophy and the Logos

In order to fully appreciate Justin's writings, the reader will need to understand the significance of two Greek words he uses repeatedly throughout his works: philosophia and logos. Philosophia (philosophy) simply means "love of wisdom." So when Justin tells the rulers they should make a decision based on philosophy, he is not referring to some school of thought. Instead, he means that the rulers' decision about Christians should be based on love of wisdom, not on hearsay or fear of the crowds.

Justin also frequently uses the word Logos . The New Testament writers use this same word many times. For example, the Apostle John opened his Gospel with the well-known words: "In the beginning was the Word [ Logos ] and the Word [ Logos ] was with God. And the Word [ Logos ] was God." (John 1:1) Although our English Bibles generally translate logos with the term "word," logos also means "reason." When John writes that Jesus was the Logos of God, most of his readers probably understood him to say that Jesus is the Reason of God. In other words, Jesus is the embodiment of God's all-pervasive, rational power.

The early Christians recognized that God is the source of all reason and knowledge. So they believed that any reasonable person would want to serve the Reason (Logos) of God. Justin emphasizes this theme throughout his First Apology. Like so many other early Christians, Justin saw no conflict between reason and his religion. To him, the two were inseparable.

Getting Acquainted with Justin's Writings

To get acquainted with Justin's works, we recommend that a person read his First Apology . To that end, we have published a highly readable, contemporary English translation of his First Apology in our book entitled, We Don't Speak Great Things--We Live Them . To make Justin's work even more reader friendly, we have re-arranged the paragraphs of his work so that they flow in a systematic, logical order. (Like most Greek writers, Justin skips around at will.)

© Scroll Publishing Co.



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