I am participating in the group Read the Fathers, so in order to help me maintain this discipline I will be sharing my favorite quotes and observations every Saturday:
This week’s readings included more from Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, Discourse to the Greeks, Hortatory Address to the Greeks, On the Sole Government of God, On the Resurrection, and fragments from his writings as well as the document the Martyrdom of Justin.
– Justin refers to the “memoirs” of the Apostle Peter. This is likely the Gospel of Mark. We see this tradition in the fragments remaining from Papias’ writings. The Gospel of Matthew is alluded to as one of the “memoirs of his Apostles” as well (Dialogue with Trypho CVI).
– The destruction of Jerusalem is interpreted by Justin as having to do with the rejection of Christ (Dialogue with Trypho CVIII). He juxtaposes Christians with Jews arguing that both are displaced, but that the Jews earner their displacement because of the war with Rome, while Christians haven’t done anything unjust (CX). Justin seems to exhibit a replacement theology of sorts as well. He argues that “Israel” is any one who is elect–Jew or Gentile–so when Trypho asks him if he thinks he is Israel he affirms he is part of Israel (CXXIII). Now there is a Christian tradition found in the Gospels (in the mouths of both John the Baptist and Jesus) and the Pauline Epistles that denounce Jews who think their standing with God is secure because they are physical offspring of Abraham, and there is a sense in which there is a “true Israel”, and yes, Paul does speak of Gentiles as being grafted into the tree, but as Gentiles, not as Israel. It seems to me that Justin takes things one step further not speaking of himself as a Gentile adopted into the family, but as actual “Israel”.
– Justin is critical of the Rabbis. He depicts the Rabbis as arguing over silly things rather than the important points of Scripture (Dialogue with Trypho CXII). Justin continues to read Scripture as foreshadowing Jesus whether it be Melchizedek, Joshua, and so forth and so on (see a long list in CXXVI). For Justin Rabbinic disputes over the minutia of the Law is a perfect depiction of what is wrong with Judaism in his estimation. It seems he may be representing the Rabbis negatively again as “Masters” toward the end, saying they advocate having multiple wives (CXXXV).
– The Angel of God is depicted using language that sounds like that used of the Holy Spirit elsewhere. Jesus sends the Angel of God and the Angel of God is called “the Power of God” (CXVI). Elsewhere the Spirit is mentioned in Justin’s writings, though I don’t see him using particularly Trinitarian language, he does seem to connect the Spirit with revelatory and prophetic action, so one should be cautious if one suggest he doesn’t see the Spirit as somehow divine as well. Also, FWIW, on a few occasions Justin speaks of God the Father as “the unbegotten God”. He contrast the unbegotten God with Jesus who appeared as the Logos in a variety of situations in the OT where theophanies are described (see CXXVII). Now Justin doesn’t call Jesus “the begotten God”, but this is curious, and it makes me wonder about (1) Justin’s reading of John 1:18 and (2) the text available to him. Did he know of Jesus being called “the only-begotten God”?
– In Discourse to the Greeks Justin explains why he has departed from Greek customs and traditions to embrace Christianity. He is very critical of Homer. He decries the stories of the gods. He denounces Greek celebrations as lustful traps for fornication. Then he invites them to follow the Logos as he has done.
– Justin’s Hortatory to the Greeks is a polemic against the gods. He aims to expose the flaws of Greek mythology in contrast to Christianity. He challenges the worldview of their poets and philosophers alike. He aims to show incoherence between personalities like Homer and Plato or Plato and Aristotle. This “contradiction of canon” is aimed to upset the Greeks. Justin contrasts this with Christianity, which he argues presents a unified front, something that is quite questionable! He begins his apologetic by appealing to the greatness of Moses, who he presents as the first law giver. Then he argues for the validity of the LXX. After this he defends monotheism using the writings of some Greeks with further appeal to Moses’ encounter with the one God, who revealed himself as “I AM”.
– I am quite struck by how confident Justin appears in his assertion of the chronological primacy and influence of Moses against all law givers, and even argues that his writings were read by Plato, so that Greek philosophy was influenced by Moses, but Plato couldn’t admit this because of the hatred people had toward Moses’ person and his people. In XXX Justin argues that Plato’s ideas of forms are misreadings of Genesis 1-2 where God creates the earth tohu vahohu and then makes “humans in his own image…”. In Genesis 1 creation becomes materialized and in Genesis 2 the same happens to humans. Justin argues that Plato was familiar with other Hebrew writers like the prophet Ezekiel (XXXI). Justin says that the Hebraic concept of “holy spirit” borrowed from the prophets was translated into the concept of “virtue” by Plato (XXXII). Plato derived his ideas of the beginning of time from Moses (XXXIII). Justin blames the creation of idols on a misunderstanding of Hebraic anthropomorphisms (XXXIV).
– In this work Justin presents his understanding of the LXXs origins:
“…let him read profane histories, and know that Ptolemy, king of Egypt, when he had built the library in Alexandria, and by gathering books from every quarter had filled it, then learnt that very ancient histories written in Hebrew happened to be carefully preserved; and wishing to know their contents, he sent for seventy wise men from Jerusalem, who were acquainted with both the Greek and Hebrew language, and appointed them to translate the books; and that in freedom from all disturbance they might the more speedily complete the translation, he ordered that there should be constructed, not in the city itself, but seven stadia off (where the Pharos was built), as many little cots as there were translators, so that each by himself might complete his own translation; and enjoined upon those officers who were appointed to this duty, to afford them all attendance, but to prevent communication with one another, in order that the accuracy of the translation might be discernible even by their agreement. And when he ascertained that the seventy men had not only given the same meaning, but had employed the same words, and had failed in agreement with one another not even to the extent of one word; but had written the same things, and concerning the same things, he was struck with amazement, and believed that the translation had been written by divine power, and perceived that the men were worthy of all honor, as beloved of God; and with many gifts ordered them to return to their own country. And having, as was natural, marveled at the books, and concluded them to be divine, he consecrated them in that library. These things, ye men of Greece, are no fable, nor do we narrate fictions; but we ourselves having been in Alexandria, saw the remains of the little cots at the Pharos still preserved, and having heard these things from the inhabitants, who had received them as part of their country’s tradition, we now tell to you what you can also learn from others, and specially from those wise and esteemed men who have written of these things, Philo and Josephus, and many others. But if any of those who are wont to be forward in contradiction should say that these books do not belong to us, but to the Jews, and should assert that we in vain profess to have learnt our religion froth them, let him know, as he may from those very things which are written in these books, that not to them, but to us, does the doctrine of them refer. That the books relating to our religion are to this day preserved among the Jews, has been a work of Divine Providence on our behalf; for lest, by producing them out of the Church, we should give occasion to those who wish to slander us to charge us with fraud, we demand that they be produced from the synagogue of the Jews, that from the very books still preserved among them it might clearly and evidently appear, that the laws which were written by holy men for instruction pertain to us (Chapter XIII).”
There is a lot of mythology here, especially regarding Justin’s assurance regarding the elders and their perfectly parallel translations. Likewise, he doesn’t find value in the LXX for Jews, but for Christians alone, which seems to be a false dichotomy (what do we do with Paul?)!
– Justin makes an interesting claim in XXVIII that the goddess Ate from Homer Iliad is a satan figure. Now I wouldn’t make that correlation one-for-one, but I do wonder if there is any conceptual relationship. The section he quotes reads:
“And, seizing by her glossy locks
The goddess Ate, in his wrath he swore
That never to the starry skies again,
And the Olympian heights, he would permit
The universal mischief to return.
Then, whirling her around, he cast her down
To earth. She, mingling with all works of men,
Caused many a pang to Jove.”
This wouldn’t be the only story of one god casting away another god, but the language does have much similarity to how Christians talk about Satan now.
– In On the Sole Government of God Justin begins by describing humanity as having fallen away from the true God to pursue idols (seems like a little Genesis 1 and Romans 5). He quote pagan writers regarding the oneness of God, final judgment (including cosmic destruction), the futility of animal sacrifices, and the wickedness of the gods, in order to argue for conversion to monotheistic Christianity.
– In some of the fragments attributed to Justin he defends the resurrection (known as On the Resurrection). He has some interesting things to say about sexuality after the resurrection arguing that the virgin birth was intended to show that humans could exist without sex. He seems to dislike sex and he emphasizes that Jesus partook in all that was human–eating, drinking, sleep–but not sex, because sex is not intrinsic to being human. Justin takes the physicality of the resurrection seriously, denouncing anyone who calls themselves “Christian” but denies the resurrection as worse than unbelievers. He spends time arguing for how resurrection is a logical possibility and he defends the value of the body.
– Justin discusses the relationship between the soul and the body. He argues that God will redeem both. The souls is seen as the thing that sustains the body’s life.
Christ as Passover:
And it is written, that on the day of the passover you seized Him, and that also during the passover you crucified Him. And as the blood of the passover saved those who were in Egypt, so also the blood of Christ will deliver from death those who have believed. (Dialogue with Trypho CXI)
Eucharist Replaces Sacrifices:
““Accordingly, God, anticipating all the sacrifices which we offer through this name, and which Jesus the Christ enjoined us to offer, i.e., in the Eucharist of the bread and the cup, and which are presented by Christians in all places throughout the world, bears witness that they are well-pleasing to Him. But He utterly rejects those presented by you and by those priests of yours, saying, ‘And I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles (He says); but ye profane it.’Yet even now, in your love of contention, you assert that God does not accept the sacrifices of those who dwelt then in Jerusalem, and were called Israelites; but says that He is pleased with the prayers of the individuals of that nation then dispersed, and calls their prayers sacrifices.” (Dialogue with Trypho CXVII)
Reinterpreting the Eden Narrative (with echos of Romans 1:18-26)?
“Men, therefore, having been duped by the deceiving demon, and having dared to disobey God, were cast out of Paradise, remembering the name of gods, but no longer being taught by God that there are no other gods. For it was not just that they who did not keep the first commandment, which it was easy to keep, should any longer be taught, but should rather be driven to just punishment. Being therefore banished from Paradise, and thinking that they were expelled on account of their disobedience only, not knowing that it was also because they had believed in the existence of gods which did not exist, they gave the name of gods even to the men who were afterwards born of themselves. This first false fancy, therefore, concerning gods, had its origin with the father of lies. God, therefore, knowing that the false opinion about the plurality of gods was burdening the soul of man like some disease, and wishing to remove and eradicate it, appeared first to Moses, and said to him, “I am He who is.” For it was necessary, I think, that he who was to be the ruler and leader of the Hebrew people should first of all know the living God. Wherefore, having appeared to him first, as it was possible for God to appear to a man, He said to him, “I am He who is;” then, being about to send him to the Hebrews, He further orders him to say, “He who is hath sent me to you.”” (Hortatory to the Greeks XXI) [Also, On the Sole Government of God 1 begins w. what seem to be echos of Romans 1, though they could be appeals to the Hebraic polemical tradition against idols. Justin says that humans forsook God for idols, then this sin “spread to the many”.]
Eucharist Replaces Sacrifices ….
Eucharist is an everlasting memorial and evidence of God’s mercy. I haven’t read much of JM (due to a mild, but rational, prejudice against the mistakes of early church father theology) however the assertion ‘Eucharist Replaces Sacrifices’ suggests an equality, that one can replace the other. Theologically, that is demonstrably untenable. .
Eucharist, the body and blood of the lamb, as a process is santification making the need to atone for sin, through sacrifice diminish. As long as there is sin, there will be sacrificial atonement for only through the shedding of blood can the the price of sin be paid; this means that although Christ’s death could be that atonement, Eucharist eliminates the need for atonement by resurrecting us in new life, changing our heart over time not to sin. This is the first resurrection, the important resurrection, and the resurrection esctatologist still somehow await.
If Mercy triumphs over justice, and likewise obedience is better than sacrifice, Eucharist is not equal to sacrifice, nor a replacement. Rather it is an inhibitor and preventer for the need for sacrifice, so it is actually the solution to sacrifice (and therefore clearly better), but both exist together.
Three things strike me… A.) Justin’s terminology in referring to the Gospels must be very informative for those pursuing the history of Christian canon. B.) As far as being critical about the rabbis arguing over trivial things, well, Christians in the centuries since have certainly been as guilty! [smiley face] C.) Most significantly to me though, is the combination of Justin’s regard for Moses, his regard for the LXX, and the importance he places on “books relating to our religion … be[ing] produced from the synagogue of the Jews”. I wonder if he struggles with anti-Semitism, and perhaps only reluctantly (and not thoroughly) espouses the party line?
It seems like this Eucharist > Sacrifices or Eucharist as Sacrifice paradigm is an important part of traditions like Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. If I am correct, these groups see a progression that goes something like Temple Sacrifice –> Death of Christ –> Eucharist Sacrifice. The common factor is the Death of Christ, a sacrifice that transitions the forward pointing Temple Sacrifices to the backward pointing Eucharist Sacrifices.
There does seem to be some anti-semitism in Justin’s writings. Now, I want to be careful not to be overly anachronistic here. Justin criticizes the Greeks as well. He seems to have a worldview that pits Christianity against Greek Thought. It may be the same in that he pits Christianity against Jewish Thought. I don’t want to say Justin is “racist”, per se, but I do think the socio-political impact of the Jewish War of 66-70 and the Bar Kokhba Revolt lead some Christians—especially Justin who is trying to argue that Christians are not a threat to Roman society in some of his letters–to emphasize the differences between Jews and Christians.
Brian, that’s first time I’ve been seen close to orthodoxy (amused, not offended). Going to note the date however – perhaps there’s still hope for me …
That said, I’d differentiate my claim by clarifying something.
Verses such as [Phil 3:10] and [Rom 6:5-11] bind Christ’s death and ressurection pretty tightly together (with Christ we cannot see one without the other). Because the same verses tie our salvation and santification together with Christ’s death and ressurection. Differentiation between ‘Death of Christ’ and ‘Eucharist Sacrifice’ may not be doable theologically ( I take Eucharist Sacrifice to mean sanctification through the baptismal memorial of Christ’s death and ressurection).
Rick, its likely more helpful to see attitudes such as these as the emmergence of replacement theology, where people struggled to explain Israel in the new covenant, by attributing false theological meaning to concepts such as Ekklesia; seeing themselves as belonging this Ekklesia rather than Israel (Ironically though most were Israelites); and waging theological war against the idea of Israel because of the cultural contributions of Edomite Jews to Judean culture and Post-Babylonian religion.
The result has been to see Church fathers as anti-Semitic (which is true theologically) and to seed a new ecclesiastical notion that shifts focus away from Gods relationship with Israel onto this new imagined thing ‘Ekklesia’, which brings with it the idea both covenants are theologically dissimilar (rather than the idea both are one and the same, save for degree).
In reality they were reacting to a serious thing (the historial corruption of what it meant to be an Israelite)
If you read Matthew 23-24 w/o our American centric pre conceived notions of eschatology and accept that text in it’s overall narrative context, you’ll fully understand Justin’s attitude toward unbelieving Jews.
They were judged finally and fully for their rejection of Christ and 70 AD was the end result of it. Justin wanted them to see this reality.
Jesus warned Jerusalem just like He had pre Incarnation about ignoring Him and He gave them the final warning then and there, it was the culmination of tons of OT predictions about the Jews being dispersed forever among the nations someday.
Of all humans, Jews should have been Christians way before the Gentiles who had not been raised in that belief system and Jesus made this imminently clear. “IF Sodom and Gomorrah had seen what you’ve seen, they would have repented”.
70 AD is the theological watershed event in history since the dispersion of the nations at Babel. Justin got this and he wanted his unbelieving Jewish friends to as well.
Not to mention that in the era of Justin, unbelieving Jews were persecuting Christians t. There was tremendous hostility between Christian Jews and non Christian Jews specifically, they murdered James in Jerusalem, Josephus recorded this.
In Hebrews, those believing Jews had their property confiscated among other things and Paul in I Thess 2:14-16 said the hostile Jews had been persecuting the church and God’s wrath had come to them to the “uttermost”.
Jesus called unbelieving Jews the “synagogue of satan”. He loved them, but, Jesus wasn’t one to be pc like we are. He called it like He saw it.
Since the holocaust, we’re afraid to be blunt about this. It’s a fact, ancient Jews treated their fellow Jews who believed in Jesus like modern anti semites have Jews.
I think Justin saw 70 AD as confirmation of Christ’s validity, I do myself.
Brian, I’m getting the impression from your summaries (mainly this one) on JM that his apologetic effort was leading him to some very speculative contentions (not to mention the anti-Judaism and/or antisemitic aspects). That is bolstered by a few others’ analysis of his work (which I admittedly have read very little of directly).
Am I right, citing other scholars, that he saw the great need to show Christianity as connected to the “ancientness” of Judaism, respected as that was by Greco-Roman society vs. their suspicion of “new” religions or philosophies? Thus, he was probably prone to overstate his case and go into speculation… particularly re. Plato et al having read and borrowed from Moses?
I suppose that was possible, but does he cite any evidence to indicate it other than some parallels of concepts, etc.? What do you think of the contention yourself, Brian? Much chance ancient Greek philosophers would have either had or consulted Hebrew Scriptures? I haven’t studied much about the Diaspora of around 400 BCE and where synagogues existed where they probably would have had scrolls of some or all the OT… Is there info somewhere about this that is more than speculation?
Oh the times, they were a-changin’! This era is so fascinating. Makes me think of Sholem Asch in “One Destiny” where he bemoans the division of Judaism and Christianity while theorizing that had there not been that (continuing) dynamic, the Judeo-Christian faith likely would not have spread around the world.
To be fair, the common interpretation isn’t limited to “American” exegetes. You are correct that an equally attractive, if not more accurate reading of passages like Mt. 23-24, would be that Jesus went into heaven to be vindicated as the Son of Man, and the collapse of the Temple justifies his claims. What we must remember though is that there is something worth acknowledging when we discuss the difference between inter-Jewish conflict (Qumran critiquing the priesthood, John the Baptist or Jesus calling the nation to repentance, Paul and others speaking about a remnant of Israel) and an exterior critique like Justin’s. Justin’s critique recontextualizes things making it “Jew v. non-Jew” whereas the above debates are Jew v. Jew on the meaning of true “Jewishness”. This second paradigm doesn’t frame all Jews the same way as the first paradigm does.
Yes, in the Roman world older religions were like aged wine. New religions were suspect. Christianity had to have roots deeper than Golgatha or Bethlehem, so Justin uses Christianity’s emergence from Judaism as a key point. By grounding Christianity in Moses’ teachings he can argue that Christianity is older the Platonist, Stoics, and dozens of other philosophical worldviews.
I have never heard anyone make a serious argument that Plato, et al., would have had any familiarity with Moses or the prophets. I could be wrong about that, but I think it is a somewhat unique invention.
That is a good point. Tensions and fractures sometimes make room for expansion.
That’s a fair representation, the narrative does hold only ancient, 1st century unbelieving Israel responsible for missing the visitation of Yahweh and the execution of The Lord.
That’s a separate issue from X % of ancient Jews in the 100 years after Christ persecuting the Church.
In Justin’s days, there appear to have been a significant enough % of Jews willing to persecute Christians based on several mentions in the NT text, for this purpose, most notably Jesus in Rev 2 to Smyrna because I am assuming that document was circulated not too soon before Justin’s birth.
It would be surprising and spiritually awesome if there were no hostility built up by Justin’s later years and understandable if there was, IMO. His paradigm was way different from our’s.
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