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".]