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Justin Martyr

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Saint Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr.jpg

Born Born::100 AD, Flavia Neapolis, Palaestina
Died Died::165 AD, Rome, Roman Empire
Venerated in Roman Catholicism
Eastern Orthodoxy
Oriental Orthodoxy
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast April 14 (Roman Catholicism)
June 1 (Eastern Orthodoxy)

Justin Martyr (Latin: Iustinus Martyr) (Born::100 ADDied::165 AD) was an early Christian apologist who was martyred for his faith in 165 AD in Rome. He is recognized as a saint by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.


Justin came from a Greek-speaking non-Jewish family living in Flavia Neapolis (Shechem) in Samaria.[1] He wrote of how he searched for truth, attaching himself to a succession of philosophical schools: Stoicism, Aristotelianism, Pythagorianism and Platonism.[2] Finally (in about AD 130)[3] he met an old man while walking on the seashore at Ephesus who pointed out some of the weaknesses in his Platonic system. He showed Justin how the Old Testament predicted the coming of Christ; but it was seeing the courage of the Christian martyrs that finally convinced him.[4] Still wearing his philosopher’s cloak[5] he dedicated the rest of his life to defending orthodox Christianity against its philosophical opponents.[6]

During the reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-161) Justin ministered in Rome, founding a school that attracted a wide variety of students, including Tatian from Nisibis in Assyria, Irenaeus from Smyrna and Theophilus from near the Euphrates.[7] There he vigorously opposed the Cynic philosopher Crescens,[8] the Gnostic Valentinians, the Marcionites[9] and the Jews.[10] Justin earned his surname when he perished during the persecution of Christians by Marcus Aurelius (121-180) in about AD 165.[11]

Most scholars agree that Justin was verbose, confused, inconsistent and often not convincing in his arguments. Nevertheless, he is an important figure in the history of the Church. For him Christianity was “theoretically, the true philosophy,[12] and, practically, a new law of holy living and dying.[13] The former is chiefly the position of the Apologies, the latter that of the Dialogue.”[14] In recent years the traditional view that Justin’s theology was dominated by his philosophical background has been questioned. As we shall see, his view of creation was very much influenced by Platonism. He used philosophy as a tool to spread orthodox Christianity, rather than translate Christianity into an academic philosophical system.[15]

Use of Allegory

Justin used allegory extensively in his writings, but it was the Palestinian allegory of the Rabbis rather than the Alexandrian allegory of Philo.[16] Given that Justin was born in Samaria this it is not really surprising. For Justin, the key to understanding the Old Testament was Christ and his Christocentric interpretation meant that the meaning of the original writers was considered unimportant.[17] There appears to be some dispute as to how much of his hermeneutic Justin derived from his study of the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament. W.H.C. Frend states that “[t]here is no evidence that he was influenced by any of the writers of the NT.”[18] William Shotwell, on the other hand, argues at length that Justin was heavily dependent on the New Testament writers.[19] However, Shotwell also states that the New Testament writers were not interested in the historical background of the Old Testament passages they used,[20] and the validity of such a statement is extremely doubtful. In balance I think that it is most likely that Justin formulated his method of interpretation from a variety of sources: the New Testament, his Christian predecessors, Palestinian Jewish exegesis, and Stoic allegory.[21]

Justin’s interpretation of the creation account can just about be pieced together from the few references to it in his surviving works. It is based on a highly selective christianisation of Plato’s work Timaeus.[22] The result is an account that is an amalgam of Christianity and Platonism that fails to do full justice to either position. A Christian would not be satisfied with God simply bringing order to pre-existent chaos,[23] while a Platonist would argue that Justin selected and reinterpreted Plato too freely. When he writes to Emperor Antoninus (86-161) that Christians “have taught that [God] at the beginning, because he is good, did fashion all things out of unformed matter,”[24] the origin of this idea is clearly Platonic.[25] As Plato was (according to Justin) dependent on Moses for his understanding of the world order this caused Justin no intellectual problems.[26] Justin notes that in his work Timaeus Plato explains the origin of evil by arguing that matter was inherently evil, so that whatever was made from it was also evil,[27] but there is no evidence that Justin himself believed that matter itself was evil. Evil comes as the result of a conscious decision on the part of created beings.[28]

Creation and Fall According to Justin Martyr

Justin accepted at face value the statement that Adam was made out of the earth[29] and Eve from one of Adam’s ribs.[30] In Dialogue 81.3 he writes that Adam died on the day he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet the Genesis account records that he lived for a thousand years because to the Lord “a day is as a thousand years” (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8). Somewhat anachronistically Justin taught that Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise because they failed to keep the first commandment (Exodus 20:3), that is, they acknowledged the existence of other gods.[31] Apparently following the Epistle of Barnabas,[32] he draws a parallel between the Serpent who tempted Eve and the serpents who attacked the Israelites in the Wilderness. He argued that “the purpose of the Incarnation was to destroy the power of the old serpent, and to bring man salvation from his bites, which are evil deeds, idolatries, and other acts of unrighteousness.”[33] Justin was the first known Christian writer to add to Paul’s Adam-Christ parallel by contrasting Mary with Eve,[34] noting that while the virgin Eve received the word of the serpent, the virgin Mary instead received the Word of the Lord through Gabriel.[35]

The Flood

On the subject of the Flood, Justin gives a literal interpretation: the Flood was universal, covering the earth to the depth of 15 cubits and only Noah’s family survived.[36] He links Noah with the Greek legend of Deucalion and argues that the Greeks knew Noah by this name.[37]



  1. Robert M. Grant, Greek Apologists of the Second Century. London: SCM, 1988. p.50; Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 1.1 (Ante-Nicene Fathers [ANF], Vol. 1, p.163).
  2. ). Justin Martyr, A Dialogue with Trypho, 2 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.195).
  3. L.W. Barnard, Justin Martyr, His Life and Thought. Cambridge: CUP, 1967. p.13, places the date of his conversion shortly before the Bar Vochba rebellion of 132-135.
  4. Justin Martyr, 2 Apology, 12.2; Eusebius, Church History, 4.8.5 (Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers [NPNF], 2nd series, Vol. 1, p.181).
  5. Justin, Dialogue, 1 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.163); Eusebius, History, 4.11.8 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 1, p.184).
  6. Barnard, op.cit., p.12.
  7. Philip Carrington, The Early Christian Church, Vol. 2. Cambridge: CUP, 1957. pp.101-102.
  8. Justin Martyr, 2 Apology, 3.1 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.189).
  9. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 26.8; 58 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.171-172, 182).
  10. Justin Martyr, Dialogue, Theodore Stylianopoulos, “Justin Martyr,” Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. New York: Garland, 1990., pp.514-516
  11. Barnard, op.cit., p.13
  12. Justin, Dialogue, 100.8 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.249).
  13. Justin, Dialogue, 100.11 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.249).
  14. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, 1910. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989. p.722.
  15. .Stylianopoulos, “Justin Martyr,” Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. New York: Garland, 1990. p.515.
  16. William A. Shotwell, The Biblical Exegesis of Justin Martyr. London: SPCK, 1965. p.40: “In Palestine it was symbolical and typological, but in Hellenistic Judaism it was generally philosophical and mystical.”
  17. Ibid., pp.7-8. “Although, in the Apologies and the Dialogue, Justin dues not use the word “allegory” to describe his method, he does use the allegorical method of interpretation. He interprets the Old Testament as saying one thing and yet meaning another. This is allegory as it is defined by the Greek themselves.” ibid., p.42. See Pseudo-Heraclitus, Quaestiones Homericae, 6
  18. Frend, op.cit., p.237
  19. Shotwell, op.cit., pp.49-64.
  20. Ibid, pp.63-64.
  21. Ibid., p.46.
  22. Plato, Timaeus, 51a.
  23. . Richard A. Norris, God And World In Early Christian Theology: A Study in Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Origen. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1966. p.52; Justin, 1 Apology 10; 59; Hortatory Address, 6-7 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.165-166, 182, 275-276).
  24. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 10, 59 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.165-166, 182).
  25. Barnard, op.cit., p.111
  26. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 10.1; 59.1; 2 Apology 4 (ANF, Vol. 1, 165-166, 182, 189-190). Stuart G. Hall, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church. London, SPCK, 1991. p.53.
  27. Justin, Hortatory Address, 20 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.281.
  28. Justin, 1 Apology, 10, 28, 43, 44; 2 Apology 7, 14; Dialogue 88, 102, 124, 141 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.165-166, 172, 177, 177-178, 190-191, 193, 250, 261-262, 269). Gerhard May, Creatio Ex Nihilo, trans. A.S. Worrall. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994. p.125.
  29. Justin, Resurrection, 5 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.295-296).
  30. Justin, Dialogue, 84 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.241).
  31. Justin, Hortatory Address, 21 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.282-283).
  32. Epistle of Barnabas 12 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.145): “For since transgression was committed by Eve through means of the serpent [the Lord] brought it to pass that every [kind of ] serpents bite them, and they died, that He might convince them, that on account of their transgression they were given over to the straits of death.” This which was, incidentally, the first Christian document to refer to the Adamic Fall after the close of the NT canon. Norman P. Williams, The Ideas of the Fall and of Original Sin: A Historical and Critical Study. London: Longmans, Green & Co. Ltd., 1927. p.171.
  33. Williams, 173-174; Justin, Dialogue, 94 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.246-247).
  34. Johannes Quasten, Patrology, Vol. 1. Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1950. p.211.
  35. Justin, Dialogue, 100 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.248-249). Justin, Dialogue, 138 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.268). Justin, 2 Apology 7 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.190-191).
  36. Justin, Dialogue, 138 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.268).
  37. Justin, 2 Apology 7 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.190-191).

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