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Justin Martyr

And so we come to the end of what is known as the Apostolic period. Now all who had known Jesus had died, as had those who had known those who had known Jesus. The Church was now on its own, but how was it going to cope? Was it going to move forwards guided by direct instructions from the letters and gospels of the original apostles and by the oral traditions preserved by those, such as Polycarp, with direct links with the original Church? Or was it going to look around at the World, at deceivers like Marcion, and allow other ideas to get into the mix?

One man, the next Church Father in our historical survey, provided a clue. Justin Martyr was his name, though his life was certainly not defined by the manner of his death. There are three better possibilities - Justin Philosopher, Justin Jew-baiter and Justin Apologist. Justin set the scene for battles yet to come for the heart and soul of the Church.

Justin was born around 100 AD in what was then Palestine. His background was thoroughly Greek and he had been a follower of Plato until a chance meeting with an old guy on a beach who introduced him to Christianity. Justin was converted and regarded Christianity as "the true philosophy", marking him as the first in a long line of Christian philosophers, perhaps the saddest oxymoron of them all! Hence Justin Philosopher.

He was not entirely a "new creation" when he embraced faith in Jesus Christ and the fact that he chose to dress in the recognised costume of a teacher of philosophy (their equivalent of the dog collar and all the other paraphernalia) indicated that here was a man determined to find a workable mix of faith and philosophy. Impurities added to a quartz crystal can add vivid colour, yet the impurity of pagan thinking that Justin added to the pure teachings of Jesus Christ led to a watered-down message, weak and unreliable. These impure teachings were spread through his writings. One was The Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, from which he earns his second honorary title, Justin Jew-baiter.

This was an attack on the Judaism of the Jews who had rejected Jesus and were now dispersed through the nations. What started out as gentle reasoning soon gave way to blatant attack and The Dialogue with Trypho the Jew was probably the earliest anti-Jewish diatribe produced by the early Church. At a time when unbelieving Jews were very much in opposition, it is most telling to see that many of his arguments were constructed within the framework of the teachings of Plato and Socrates. It is here, in chapter 11, that we read the following:

We have been led to God through this crucified Christ, and we are the true spiritual Israel, and the descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, who, though uncircumcised, was approved and blessed by God because of his faith and was called the father of many nations. All this will be proved as we proceed with our discussion.

The first seeds of replacement theology, the idea of the Church as Spiritual Israel had now been sown by the first major Church Father to have no connection with the original Jewish apostles of Jesus. And these seeds, as we will see, had been sown in soil fertilised by the pagan culture of the day.

Justin dug in the knife in other ways too. There was the claim that the Christians not only had a more accurate translation of Scripture (the Greek Septuagint, which was actually translated from the Hebrew Scripture of the Jews), but understood it better. He also accused the Jews of Scripture twisting and, most incredibly of all, of persecuting Christians - though only as far as telling stories about them or cursing them in the synagogue. So, Justin Martyr was no friend of the Jew and helped to create a theological framework that would be used by future generations to justify their own hatreds.

The final epithet is Justin Apologist, the role by which he is best known. An apologist is not someone who apologises for being a Christian, but rather defends it. Justin was in a good position to defend the Church against the various heresies, such as Marcionism, that were emerging, because he'd been there and had the t-shirt. Justin knew the vocabulary and mindset of the heretics because their roots, like his own, were in Greek philosophy.

Steve Maltz
July 2013

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth)

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