Who was Justin Martyr?

Justin Martyr (100-165) is reputable for being the first philosopher and apologist attempting to defend the Christian faith through apologetics. 

Apologetics is understood as a reasoned defense of a specific point of view. Some early Christian apologists within a century or two of Jesus Christ’s death attempted to counter charges they considered unwarranted concerning Christian rituals, beliefs, and practices. Some of these charges included Christians being cannibals, incestuous, and atheists. They were also accused of civil disobedience and insurrection through plotting to overthrow the Roman government.

Martyr countered such charges. He was a peripatetic, which meant he traveled and taught philosophy with the hope of converting listeners to the Christian religion. He converted to Christianity after a discussion with an elderly man on a seashore. This man spoke compellingly about Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the promises made through the Jewish prophets. Upon learning this “a flame was kindled” in Martyr’s soul “and a love of the prophets and those who are friends of Christ possessed” him (1).

Martyr authored two texts, the First Apology and the Second Apology. The First Apology was written to the emperors Antoninus Pius (86-161) and Marcus Aurelius (121-180) concerning unjust accusations being leveled against Christians for engaging in immoral practices. Christians were accused of cannibalism because they would come together in small groups to partake in the Eucharist or communion where they consumed (not literally) the flesh and blood of Christ. Cannibalism had no place in these gatherings, stated Martyr. Rather, the gatherings involved a devotional, sacramental activity which he described,

“On finishing the prayers we greet each other with a kiss. Then Bread and a cup of water mixed with wine are brought to the leader and he, taking them, sends up praise and glory to the Father of the Universe through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and offers thanksgiving at some length that we have been deemed worthy to receive these things. When the leader has finished the prayers and thanksgivings, the whole congregation assents, saying, “Amen.” (“Amen” is Hebrew for “So be it.”) Then those whom we call deacons give to each of those present a portion of the consecrated bread and wine and water, and they take it to the absent” (2).

Christians were also accused of incest because they commonly referred to each as one as brother and sister, and would come together for feasts. The Romans accused them of being atheists because they did not worship the Roman gods but instead worshiped an invisible God. In his Second Apology, Martyr contends that the Christian faith is not a threat to the Roman Empire and argued that Christians were the empire’s “best helpers and allies in securing good order, convinced as we are that no wicked man… can be hidden from God, and that everyone goes to eternal punishment or salvation in accordance with the character of his actions”.

Martyr further claimed Christianity to be superior to paganism, the latter of which he considered a poor imitation of the true religion. Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho is a discussion with a rabbi, Trypho, on matters of Jewish faith and biblical interpretation. They discussed whether or not Jesus was the promised Messiah. Martyr not only attempted to demonstrate the truth of Christianity but also that God had superseded the old covenant with the Jewish people by instituting a new convent, that Christ is the messiah prophesied by the prophets of the Old Testament, the Gentiles are the new Israel, and the Logos is the God of the Old Testament.

References

1. Van Voorst, Robert E. 2014. Readings in Christianity. Boston: Cengage Learning. p. 84.

González, Justo. 2010. Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Reformation. HarperOne. p. 110-114.

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