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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Evangelists and Apologists > Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr
Defender of the "true philosophy"
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

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Justin Martyr

"I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable."

When Justin was arrested for his faith in Rome, the prefect asked him to denounce his faith by making a sacrifice to the gods. Justin replied, "No one who is rightly minded turns from true belief to false."



Crucifixion of Jesus; Pentecost


Peter and Paul executed


Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus


Justin Martyr born


Justin Martyr dies


Irenaeus writes Against Heresies

It was in one sense an easy answer for Justin because he had spent most of his adult life discerning the true from the false.

Fire in the soul

Justin was born in the Roman city of Flavia Neapolis (ancient Shechem in Samaria). Raised by pagan parents, he sought to find life's meaning in the philosophies of his day. This only brought a series of disappointments.

His first teacher was a Stoic who "knew nothing of God and did not even think knowledge of him to be necessary." There followed a Peripatetic (itinerant philosopher), who seemed most interested in getting his fees. Then came a Pythagorean, but his required course of music, astronomy, and geometry seemed far too slow. Finally, Platonism, though intellectually demanding, proved unfulfilling for Justin's hungry heart.

At last, about A.D. 130, after a conversation with an old man, his life was transformed: "A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; 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."

Justin continued to wear his philosopher's cloak, seeking to reconcile faith and reason. His teaching ministry took him first to Ephesus (c. 132), where he held a disputation with Trypho, a Jew, about the true interpretation of Scripture. The Dialogue with Trypho teaches three main points: the Old Covenant is passing away to make place for the New; the Logos is the God of the Old Testament; and the Gentiles are the new Israel.

Later Justin moved to Rome, founded a Christian school, and wrote two bold apologies (i.e., defenses—from the Greek apologia). Justin's First Apology, addressed to Emperor Antoninus Pius, was published in 155 and attempted to explain the faith. Christianity was not a threat to the state, he asserted, and should be treated as a legal religion. He wrote "on behalf of men of every nation who are unjustly hated and reviled."

Justin argued that Christians are, in fact, the emperor's "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." He further showed that Christianity is superior to paganism, that Christ is prophecy fulfilled, and that paganism is actually a poor imitation of the true religion.

A picture of worship

However, this apology has gained the most attention for modern readers because in it Justin records detailed descriptions of early Christian worship (to show unbelievers that Christianity was not subversive). The most famous passage is this:

On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.

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