2nd Century Apologists – Part 3

Justin Martyr. Justin was the greatest of the 2nd century apologists. Born of Greek parents in Palestine, he began seeking the truth in Greek philosophy, especially Platonism, which gave him an inspiring vision of eternal beauty, truth and goodness. But he was still not satisfied. He started thinking about Christianity after being impressed by the fearless way that Christian martyrs went to their deaths. Finally Justin became a Christian himself, through an unexpected meeting with an old man when he was out walking one day along a sea-shore at Ephesus. The old man talked with Justin about the meanings of life, and introduced him to the Old Testament Scriptures and Christ as providing the answer. Justin spent the rest of his life teaching philosophy as a Christian. He settled in Rome in about AD 153, and wrote two apologies. His First Apology he dedicated to the emperor Antoninus Pius; his Second Apology, dedicated to the Roman Senate, was written later as a supplement to the first.

In his writings, Justin tried to show that all the truths which the Greek philosophers, particularly the Platonists, had been striving to understand were now perfectly revealed in Christianity. To demonstrate this, Justin described Christ as the Logos. This is Greek for “Reason”. (John’s Gospel calls Christ the Logos in chapter 1, verses 1 and 14. English Bibles usually translate “Logos” as “Word”, but it also means “Reason”. The English word “logical” derives from it.) Logos was a term which Greek philosophers used to refer to the eternal principle of Reason that gives order and meaning to the universe. Philosophers saw the Logos as standing half-way between God and creation; God was too distant and perfect to have any immediate contact with the universe, but He could deal with it indirectly through His Logos. According to Justin, this eternal Logos or Reason was Christ Himself before He became flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. As the eternal Logos, Justin said, Christ had been at work not only among the Jews, but in the Pagan world too, instructing the minds of those philosophers who wanted to live in harmony with Reason. Justin especially admired the great Athenian philosopher Socrates, Plato’s teacher, whom Justin saw as a sort of “Christian before Christ”. So instead of setting the Christian faith and Greek philosophy against each other, Justin believed that Christianity was the fulfillment of Greek philosophy. The philosophers had only seen parts of the jigsaw: Christianity gave the complete picture.

Justin also wrote a book called Dialogue with Trypho. This is a learned and polite debate between Justin and a Jew; it is relatively free from the anti-Jewish feeling that spoils so many early Christian writings. In the Dialogue Justin sought to prove that Christianity was the true fulfilment of the Old Testament.

The authorities in Rome executed Justin for being a Christian in about AD 165. It is both odd and tragic that the emperor at the time was Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic philosopher, who might have been expected to be more sympathetic than other emperors to Justin’s teaching.

The apologists did not succeed in persuading the Roman government to cease from persecuting Christians. Probably no emperor ever read any of the apologies addressed to him. The chief effect of the apologies was on the Church itself; they helped to develop the Church’s theology, and to strengthen the confidence of believers in the truth and righteousness of the faith they confessed.

More to come in the next church history post…

Source: This church history excerpt comes from Nick Needham’s 2000 Years of Christ’s Power Volume 1 – The Age of the Early Church Fathers pgs 92-93.

3 responses to “2nd Century Apologists – Part 3”

  1. Good post on an early Patristic apologist!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is definitely worth digging into church history and learning from it. Besides, it iOS fun too! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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