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Justin’s first Apology, gives great insight into challenges faced by ancient Christians, and by extension, a better understanding of how Christian doctrines developed, not only in the face of persecution from pagans, but also in response to early heresies.
Justin is also an important witness on early Christian worship, along with such things as open versus closed communion, the Lord’s Supper as a “sacrament,” baptismal regeneration, and the connection of baptism with the idea of illumination (cf. Heb 6:4; 10:32).
- Justin is the most notable 2nd Century apologist. He wrote First Apology around AD 150 to Emperor Antoninus Pius by Justin (c. AD 100-c. AD 165). Justin was also called Justin the Philosopher before he became Justin (the) Martyr. He was born in Samaria of pagan parents and became an avid student of philosophy. After his conversion in Ephesus at about the age of 38, he used philosophy as a means of evangelism. He opened a school of philosophy in Rome, the city where he was eventually executed under Marcus Aurelius. Only two undisputed works in Greek survive. His first Apology is an erudite defense of Christians against charges of atheism and treason. It also contains more- subtle defenses against the accusation that Christ was a magician and accusations that Christians engaged in incest and cannibalism—common charges levied by pagans against early Christians.
- Justin’s first Apology illustrates how ancient perspectives clash with the present in so many respects.
- Justin defended Christianity based on the superior morality of Christians—something that would be hard to do today. Ancient Christians were morally serious. Many Christians today are not.
- Justin emphasized fulfilled prophecy—something made problematic today by historical criticism.
- Early Christians were narrow in their political oppositions—objecting only to false worship. Christians today are more inclined to totalize narrow opposition or support into broad acceptance or rejection.
- He saw the Greeks being indebted to the Jews—the very opposite of modern assertions.
- He explained mystery religions as deceptive imitations of Christian truth. Critics today would describe Christianity as the imitation.
- The ancient church stood against culture and therefore had a strong eschatological focus. The modern church accommodates culture and has largely lost interest in the idea of coming judgment.
All of these differences make Justin’s first Apology a useful tonic for modern ills.
- At the same time, there are several important similarities between Justin’s thoughts and the present.
- Justin’s approach to apologetics fits well with the scientific and philosophic emphases of modern-day Christian apologetics.
- Notwithstanding its dubiousness, Justin’s “Christians before Christ” assertion is also a forerunner of some modern-day answers to the charge of Christian exclusivism.
- Justin’s critique of polytheism has gained new relevance with the emergence of pluralism—a modern-day analog of ancient polytheism.
- His “Logos theology” is still evidenced today in the notion of a “divine spark in every man.”
- In the meantime, Justin provides early evidence of latter theological issues of continuing interest; e.g.,
- “free will versus divine providence” and “human deification”—matters of anthropology,
- the “only begotten” issue—a matter of Christology,
- the “grace versus works” controversy—a matter of soteriology, and
- the question of the Trinity and its hierarchical nature—a matter related to theology proper.
- In a negative kind of way, Justin also exemplifies present-day philosophical issues. For example, the weakness of some of his arguments (e.g., the cross symbolized in state banners) demonstrates the relativity of “proof” across cultures.
- And finally, Justin is simply entertaining in the boldness he demonstrates in describing the Greek gods as demons. If Justin could defend Christianity by such attacks, then ancient pagans must surely have been disaffected from their religions.
- The following paragraphs summarize Justin’s thoughts in his first Apology.
- In view of God’s judgment, Justin asks for justice and appeals to Antoninus’ piety and regard for philosophy. Christians serve God rationally, following Christ who is second to the Father with the Spirit third. Justin quotes Plato, “unless both rulers and ruled philosophize, it is impossible to make states blessed.”
- The charges against Christians must be investigated. Simply labeling people as Christians doesn’t make them guilty of any crime. Justin plays on the similarity of “Christian” with “Chrestian” (meaning excellent) to say that accusers of Christians should be the ones being judged since they evidently hate the excellent. In contrast, Christians would willingly let their unjust accusers go in exchange for justice.
- The wicked accuse Christians falsely. Rulers who listen to them do their work. Christians are not atheists, yet they are punished as such. Demons inspire these charges—demons who defile women and boys. From the beginning, the demons deceived the heathen into thinking of the demons as gods. Some heathen even worship the serpent, who to Christians is Satan. Jupiter himself was a parricide and homosexual rapist.
- Heathen mythology lacks proof. The demons have twisted the prophecies of Christ into marvelous tales about themselves as gods. But they missed Christ’s crucifixion, the greatest symbol of His power, because it was foretold symbolically. The cross is manifested in the human form and on state banners.
- God will punish mankind with fire, yet He forebears because of regard for those whom He has foreknown. Christians confess their name in light of a bodily resurrection and judgment—concepts advanced by Plato. They are not frightened by threat of death for they look for a future kingdom. Christians do not hide evil deeds for they live under the all-seeing eye of God.
- But the demons persuade men there will be no judgment. They promote persecution of Christians, who not only do not hate, but seek to lead their enemies to repentance. The demons inspire heresy; e.g., Marcion and Simon, whom some Christians believe even as some Greeks believe deceitful philosophers.
- There were Christians before Christ. The Word was in the world before Christ via the reason that indwells all men. Thus, all men are accountable. Socrates was moved by the Logos (Word) to challenge belief in the gods (demons), but was put to death. Christians are subject to the same fate for exposing the demons. For that, Christians are accused of atheism—a charge that is true only in respect of these demonic gods. The Logos has now become man in Jesus Christ, who is the first-birth of God, the only Son of God, born without sexual union.
- Christians are wrongly made guilty by association with those who aren’t really Christians. They demand punishment for those who bear the name of Christ yet commit evil deeds.
- Christ taught chastity in deed and thought. He considered the twice-married as sinners. Men and women of every race, who have been Christ’s disciples from childhood, remain pure through advanced age. Christians have converted many by the manner of their lives. Once malefactors, Christians now share fellowship with former enemies and pray for those who mistreat them, believing their persecutors to be under demonic influence.
- Christians do not worship dead idols fashioned in dishonor of dishonorable materials. God does not need or want sacrifices, but He accepts those with good works as worthy of reigning with Him. (Justin quotes and paraphrases much of the Sermon on the Mount.) Christ taught civil obedience, but Christians can worship only God alone. Christians desire continence to the point of choosing the mutilation of their bodies. God deifies only those who have lived near to Him in holiness. Christians do not expose newly born children, nor raise them for prostitution, nor commit incest with them, nor mutilate them for sodomy, nor prostitute their own wives. The heathen tolerate and even receive taxes from those who do such things.
- Christian beliefs are found among heathen beliefs, but in clearer and corrected form. Christ’s manner of birth, death, miracles, and Sonship have their heathen analogies. The truth of resurrection and judgment is evidenced even to pagans in their necromancy, sacrifice of children prematurely taken from the womb, familiar spirits, demoniacs, oracles, authors, and epic heroes. Antoninus should grant Christians the same favor of belief in resurrection and judgment. Resurrection is no more miraculous than growth of a man from human seed.
- Although many Christian teachings agree with Greek thinking on numerous points, only Christians are hated for the ideas in question. Though they do no wrong, Christians are executed as evil doers. Yet others, who worship trees, mice, etc., actually do evil and go unpunished. Greek philosophers—even those who adopt the garb unworthily—disdain the gods and are protected. All idols are held in contempt by someone. Why should Christians be punished for disdaining them all?
- Christ was not a magician. His coming was foretold by the Hebrew prophets—prophets who were highly esteemed of the Greek king Ptolemy. Their prophecies predate Christ’s appearance at intervals of 5000, 3000, 2000, 1000, and 800 years. Christians reject magicians, particularly Simon who worked miracles with the aid of devils and Marcion who teaches belief in some other god greater than the Creator.
- Whatever Christians assert is true, being in conformity to the teachings of Christ and the prophets. The work of God is to foretell of a thing before it comes to pass. The prophets spoke through the person of God, Christ, and the Spirit (people). The Spirit often spoke in the “prophetic past,” seeing the future as if it had already come to pass. Moses was among these prophets. Together they foretold the desolation of Judea, the conversion of the Gentiles. They predicted Christ’s advent, manner of birth, place of birth, work, rejection by the Jews, humiliation, crucifixion, and session in heaven. Christian beliefs are based on these and many other solid prophecies that have come to pass. Fulfillment of prophecy in the past argues for the fulfillment of prophecies that are yet future. The prophets foretold two advents of Christ. The first is past. The second is yet future.
- Unbelieving Jews deny it, but it was Christ who appeared to Moses and the prophets in various forms. The Jews fulfilled Christ’s words in crucifying Him.
- Although God foretells the future, He created man with reason and free will such that man is accountable. But man has sought out many rationalizations for evil.
- Plato borrowed from Moses who was of greater antiquity. Whatever truth the Greeks have they have borrowed from Moses and the prophets. Plato speaks of Christ when he speaks of the universe’s soul as being “placed crosswise in the universe.”
- Those who are to be baptized are instructed to pray and fast for the remission of past sins. They are then brought to water and regenerated in the name of the Father, Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. This birth of choice (baptism) frees from the ignorance and wickedness arising from the birth of necessity (natural birth). This washing is called illumination, because they who learn of Christ are illuminated in their understandings. Christian baptism is imitated by the devils in the libations and sprinklings of heathen temples.
- The Lord’s Supper is for baptized believers in good standing. The bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Jesus through the prayer said over them. The devils imitate the Supper in the cult of Mithras.
- The daily fellowship and weekly worship of Christians include the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets, verbal instruction from the president, exhortations to imitation, prayer, sharing of bread and wine together with thanksgivings, distribution to those not present by the deacons, and contributions entrusted to the president who distributes to the needy. The first day is chosen because it was the day in which God made the world and the day on which Christ rose from the dead.
- Antoninus will not escape God’s judgment if he continues injustice toward Christians. Justin could demand justice in accordance with the epistle of Adrian on behalf of the Christians (which he includes with his apologetic.) (Justin also includes copies of epistles (now known to be spurious): one ostensibly an epistle of Antoninus to the common assembly of Asia and the other an epistle of Marcus Aurelius to the Senate, in which Aurelius allegedly testified that the Christians were the cause of a military victory.)
 From the Greek word “apologia,” essentially meaning “defense.”
 For example, does Justin’s explanation of the Lord’s Supper reflect transubstantiation? Or does he choose his words simply to better address the charge of cannibalism?
 See references to Marion and Simon Magus.
 Justin reconstructed his career as one of being a Stoic, an Aristotelian, a Pythagorean, and finally a Platonist.
 An emperor famous for his philosophy.
 Apology (with an appendix called the Second Apology) and Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon
 Philosophy served the Gentiles the same way the Mosaic Law served the Israelites. Justin does for the pagans what the author of Hebrews does for the Jews. The former explains Christ in terms of philosophy. The latter explains Him in terms of the priesthood of Melchizedek.
 Note also Justin’s appeal to authority (Plato) as a means of proof.
 Reorganized for brevity and readability.
 Much disputed as to Justin’s exact meaning.