Justin Martyr (c. AD 100-165) was an early Christian apologist, philosopher, and teacher. Born in Samaria and raised as a pagan, Justin was acquainted with both Jewish and Roman culture. Justin later moved to Ephesus, where he studied Stoic and Platonic philosophy. Justin was first introduced to Christianity when he encountered an old man who made arguments for the reliable testimony of the prophets about God, which Justin could not refute. After his conversion to Christianity, Justin ultimately settled in Rome, where he founded a Christian school.
Justin presented an intellectual defense and exposition of Christianity, reasoning from concepts well established in various branches of Greek philosophy, which he reconciled to the Hebrew Scriptures and the writings of Jesus’ apostles. Justin asserted that God, through His intellect and creative will (logos), has been active throughout history, and that Jesus Christ was both the incarnation and the culmination of this divine logos. Justin described Christianity as a philosophy that “alone is true and profitable”, thus revealing the complete divine truth, whereas pagan philosophies grasped only strands of truth.
Justin’s teachings played a prominent role in rebutting and denouncing several heretical teachings that were spreading within second century Christianity, most notably the teachings of Marcion of Sinope. Justin’s First Apology directly counters the primary teaching of Marcionism (that Jesus and the New Covenant are entirely separate from YHWH and the Hebrew Scriptures), and makes further reference to a more detailed “treatise against all heresies”, which did not survive antiquity. Another of Justin’s writing, Against Marcion which is also lost to us, is later referenced by church fathers Irenaeus and Eusebius.
Three of Justin’s writings have survived to the present day. The First Apology of Justin, addressed to Roman emperor Antonius Pius, was written as a defense of Christians against charges of atheism and disloyalty to Rome. First Apology further expounds on the Christian faith, emphasizing both its rationalism and its moral soundness, while detailing the fundamental Christian practices of baptism, the Eucharist, and weekly meetings.
Justin’s First Apology was followed by a more concise Second Apology of Justin for the Christians, which was addressed to the Roman Senate in response to increasing persecution of Christians under the prefect Urbicus. Writing this apology as a legal appeal, Justin sought to expose false allegations against Christians.
Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho describes a debate between Justin and a Jewish rabbi in which Justin presents a proof for Christianity built upon the Hebrew Scriptures, demonstrating that the Old Testament foretells Jesus, and defending the replacement of the old covenant. Scholars debate whether Trypho represents an historical Jewish rabbi, or a fictional person created by Justin for literary purposes.
Justin was arrested in 165, along with six of his companions, and accused of subverting Roman rule by his teachings. At his trial, Justin refused to sacrifice to Roman gods, as instructed by the presiding prefect, and was subsequently beheaded for his refusal to renounce his faith, earning him the surname Martyr.
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