Note: This is posting #13 in a series on historical theology within the Christian church. To view other postings, please click here.
The Life of Justin Martyr
Little is remembered of the Emperor Antoninus Pius. A man who reigned from AD 138 to 161, his reign is generally marked as a peaceful time, and for that reason he is all but forgotten in studies of history. Yet, for the Christian, life during this time was not so peaceful. Still persecuted and even discriminated against, Christians fought for their lives, almost as much literally as figuratively.
With a great need for a strong defense of the Christian faith still prevalent, Justin Martyr emerged as a prominent figure. He was bold in his convictions, bold in his stance, and bold in his defense. He would not be moved and sought to guard the Gospel through his writings. In those writings he set forth a solid defense using the rules of logic to convey the truth that Christians already knew. His form of logic and persuasion set the standard for a defensible faith.
The Writings of Justin Martyr
While it is clear that Justin wrote much during his life, today we have been left with the existence of only three:
- First Apology of Justin: Written about AD 155, this was Justin’s appeal to Emperor Pius on behalf of Christians who were being persecuted. It was his hope that the emperor would ease up on the affront against Christians, noting that there was a need to look at behavior and not rely on mere gossip.
- Second Apology of Justin: A follow-up to his first apology, Justin wrote in AD 160, but this time to the Roman Senate. With little response from the emperor, he changes tactics by going to other leadership. In it, he calls for reform regarding the unjust treatment of Christian.
- Dialogue w/ Trypho the Jew: Quite different than his other writings, here Justin Martyr gives an autobiographical of his own life. In it, he asserts that the Trinity and monotheism are not in conflict, a major argument of Trypho.
The Arguments of Justin Martyr
Martyr’s formation of philosophical arguments was unique. Before converting to Christianity, Justin Martyr came from the school of Platonic philosophy, making him the prime person for a defense based on philosophy. He understood the opponents way of thinking. He knew how to appeal to each individual’s philosophical preferences. Using that skill he tailored arguments in a way to move his target audience to a course of action. Noting Pius’ preference for Plato, he crafted his First Apology to suggest that Plato was indebted to Moses, and thus Christianity was quite reasonable. For his Second Apology, he compared Jesus Christ and Socrates to draw in the men of the Roman Senate, who themselves admired Socrates more than any other philosopher. With great skill and dexterity, Justin Martyr pinpointed his attack in a way that was relevant to his audience.
The Legacy of Justin Martyr
Under the rule of Prefect Rusticus, Justin Martyr was executed. It is unsure what exactly led to the execution and the date is unclear (although it is narrowed down to timeframe of AD 162-167). Yet, his writings offer profound defenses still used today. In them, we see his defense of worship, sacraments, monotheism and the incarnation, rejection of idol, and the Trinity. His impact those lies not in these defenses, but in something far greater. Justin Martyr put forth a doctrine that is well-necessitated in Christian theology. It is taught often, and yet few know that Justin helped establish its foundation. It was he who put forth the concept of Jesus Christ as the Logos (cf. John 1:1).
To that end, Justin Martyr was an example, gave a defense, and defined topics of theological discussion for the centuries that followed his death.