Faithful Through the Ages - Friday, October 18, 2013

Justin Martyr - Apologist for Pagans

Quote: "No one who is rightly minded turns from true belief to false." (Justin Martyr)

Unlike many other noted Christians of the early centuries, Justin (100 - 165) was an adult convert to the faith. Reared in a prosperous pagan family in Samaria, he was well educated and he retained his property and his philosopher's gown after his conversion. Indeed, he was convinced that he had found the true philosophy—philosophy discovered only after studying the sterile gospel of the Stoics and Plato, who gave "wings for his soul" but ultimately left him unsatisfied.

Then, around the year 130, a chance meeting with an old man by the sea transforms Justin's life. The man points him not only to the prophets whose words had been fulfilled in Christ but also to Christians who had suffered and died for their faith. "A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ," he writes. "I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do."

So convinced is he that he becomes an evangelist to the educated intellectuals of the ancient world. His debating skills are widely recognized, as are his teachings and writings. He is a Christian apologist who retains his pagan philosophy insisting that the truth of pagan philosophy, particularly Platonism, serves as "a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ." Indeed, more than any other prominent Christian apologist of the early centuries, he unabashedly embraces philosophy, much to the chagrin of his critics. Greek philosophy, he believes, is drawn from the Old Testament; and Socrates and Heraclitus are men of true faith, as are Old Testament saints. For Justin, Christ, the Word (Logos), is absolute truth and all truth is thus the truth of Christ.

Justin defends the way of Christ on two fronts: Judaism and paganism. While residing in Ephesus, he debates a Jewish scholar whose arguments are found in Justin's treatise The Dialogue with Trypho. Here he asserts that the old covenant is replaced by the new, even as Gentiles are the new Israel. He later founds a school in Rome, where his focus is on pagan philosophy. In his First Apology, offered "on behalf of men of every nation who are unjustly hated and reviled," he argues that the Christian faith is not a dangerous religion to be feared. Addressing his treatise to the emperor, he insists Christians are the "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." Written in 155, the Apology is an attempt to justify the faith and show that paganism is an inferior imitation. More importantly, it elucidates the conduct and religious practices of Christians. Their worship is straightforward religious devotion. The emperor has nothing to fear.

But holding high Greek philosophy and making the faith to appear reasonable and rational was not enough to satisfy the Roman authorities. In 165 Justin was arrested. Had he been tempted to buckle under the threat of death, he might have recalled the old man who, on the shore many years earlier, had pointed him to Christ, emphasizing the courage of those who were faithful unto death. Like them, he now refuses to forsake Christ and sacrifice to the gods. "No one who is rightly minded," he tells the prefect, "turns from true belief to false." According to tradition, Justin was martyred in Rome under Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Today's reading is from Parade of Faith: A Biographical History of the Christian Church by Ruth Tucker. © 2010 by Zondervan. Used with permission. All rights reserved. The book's title must be included when sharing the above content on social media.

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