St Justin Martyr 3Last week I read through Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho. In XLV-XLVII the two discuss whether or not a Christian can observe the Law. Justin aims to emphasize his priority that Christians observe those things which as good and right universally (e.g., living peacefully with others, love of enemy, care for the orphan and widow, etc). He finds other aspects of the Law such as regulations regarding food, or holy days, or even circumcision as (1) typological realities pointing toward Christ and (2) Laws given to Israel specifically because of the particular density of Israel’s hardened hearts. Yet when pressed Justin concedes that a Christian can observe the Law for one’s self as long as there is no effort on his/her behalf to proselytize others to Law observance (XLVI).

In Justin Martyr’s writings I have noticed that he is not ashamed to call for good deeds from Christians, Jews, and even Pagans. He seems to have understood the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as righteous in some sense because of their philosophical views that he interprets as arising above the debased paganism of their day. Justin argued in his apologetical letters that the Logos was active in the world before being incarnate in Jesus Christ.

For contemporary Christians who debate the difference between the “works of the Law” and good actions–especially as this relates to the Pauline corpus–Justin’s writings may be of interest. There remains some debate over whether Trypho was a real person, representing a real diaspora Jew after the Bar Kokhba Revolt went sour, so it may be best to focus on how Justin as a Christian interprets the difference between “works of the Law” such as circumcision, Sabbath keeping, and those sorts of Laws and good actions. Justin does not free Christians from the necessity of good deeds as part of the salvific process and he makes a distinction between these actions the Law observance.

What do you think of this?