Justin Martyr

By Kathy L. McFarland

September 1, 2011

Justin Martyr

Influential Second-Century Apologist

Justin Martyr was the most influential second-century apologist in Rome, during the rule of Emperors Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius.  He authored two Apologetics (1 and 2) and his Dialogue with Trypho, with the expression of Middle Platonism.  Before authoring his books, he studied philosophy under a Stoic, an Aristotelian, a Pythagorean, and a Platonist, and finally, an old man who, in Socratic tradition, asked a question that only Christian philosophy could answer.[1] That question stirred Martyr to embrace Christianity as philosophy itself and the ultimate goal of human searching.[2]

According to the opening chapters of his Dialogue with Trypho, Martyr was born in Samaria at Neapolis, a Roman Colony.  He was neither a Samaritan nor a Jew. As an adult, he came to Rome and taught the doctrine of Christianity in a private school; a partial account of his teaching is recorded in the Acts of Justin, a book written about his later trial that led to his martyrdom.

Justin formed his apologetics to argue against Jews, heretics, pagan intellectuals, and the state. 1 Apologetics addresses the practice of condemning Christians for their name alone, without allowing a defense of charges or a fair trial. Christians were accused of all manner of crimes against the state and against the refusal to worship of societies’ false gods; they were convicted of these false crimes without regard to a fair consideration of their beliefs and actions Justin made efforts to present the Truth of Christ in ways that both the Jews and the pagans could understand, some by using the terminology of the Synagogues and the terminology of the Greeks to explain Christianity.

Martyr’s 2 Apologetics, although it precedes 1 Apologetics, is thought to be an appendix to 1 Apologetics. Whether it is an appendix or a fragment, 2 Apologetics is a petition to the Senate concerning another case of martyrdom.

Justin responds to the same issues that many second-century apologists wrestled with; they included charges against Christians for incest (brother/sister titles of Christian fellowship), cannibalism (eating the “body” of Christ in Eucharistic communion), atheism (non-belief in false gods) , and subversion  (looking for human, rather than spiritual kingdom and being guilty by name of “Christian” alone, without examination of character) .  Concerning atheism, Justin teaches that Christ “has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense”[3] as “such deities as men have formed and set in shrines and called gods; since we see that these are soulless and dead, and have not the form of God.”[4] He represents the worship of the One True LORD God fully, and condemns the man-made, demon-controlled idols and gods of no worth.

His technique relates Christ’s sufficiency and power over their false “little” gods, and gives him foothold in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ effectively. He forms his arguments upon the antiquity of Jewish Scriptures and the Lord Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of those prophecies.  It is apparent that Justin regarded Christian philosophy superior to both the teachings of the synagogue and the posturing of the state.

He cleverly finds analogies to Christian belief by comparing events accounted in Greek mythology in order to encourage pagan readers to consider and understand Christianity.  He also gives great attention to demons, identifying them as pagan gods; this reinforces the ideas that Greeks could grasp from their worldview. This technique relates Christ’s sufficiency and power over their false “little” gods, and gives him foothold in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ effectively.

Martyr then takes his readers to the confusing areas of faith by explaining the meanings of baptism, Sunday worship, and Christ’s relationship to God through the doctrine of Logos. Logos Christology became the means of second-century apologists to start the understanding of the Trinity which develops later on in orthodox speculations.  Logos allows Jews and pagans to understand the pre-existence of Jesus Christ.  Jews already had established the pre-existent of laws through rabbinic speculation, pre-existent Wisdom supported by Jewish wisdom literature, as well as the pre-existent Messiah and pre-existent Spirit.  However, there is little evidence that suggests Jewish understanding as the pre-existent beings as capable of separate existence.

The Dialogue with Trypho answers questions raised in conversation by Trypho the Jew:

1) “Why do Christians not live different from Gentiles (with regards to Jewish religious customs) as the Scriptures enjoin the covenant people to do?”[5]

2) “Why do Christians put their hope in a crucified man?”[6]

Thus, the main issues of the discourse involved the arguments that supported Jesus as the Messiah that was proclaimed by Scripture, the true purpose of Old Testament Law, and whether the Christian church is part of the true Israel as new Chosen people of God? Justin was required to address such issues as the virgin birth, interpretation of Scripture, Christ’s two comings as Messiah to the world, the preparation of Scripture leading to fulfilled prophesy of Christ’s coming, the cessation of physical circumcision, and the Sabbath.

Modern Day Application

Justin divides Jewish and Christian believers into categories that allow his apologetic efforts to address the issues in a specific way that was relevant for the different viewpoints based on the expectation of following the Law or living solely upon faith.[7] He said the Jewish believers in Christ were of two camps; either they insisted that converted Gentiles keep the Law as they did, or allowing the Gentiles freedom from the Law as they continued to keep it. Gentile Christians also had two different viewpoints; those who believed that Jewish converts to Christianity should give up the Law entirely, and those that rejected the Law for them, but allowed Jewish Christians to keep it.[8] Modern times, with ideas flowing in all directions and manners, require apologists to base their defense of Christian faith against highly defined, specific belief systems. The apologist must organize and categorize different belief views in such a way that witness can be targeted effectively.

Specifically, Justin warns his audience of the misrepresentation of Christian Doctrine by demons in a powerful discourse that should make all listeners against Christians shake. He presents demons as tricking haters who have little care for their own salvation through dreams and magic. [9] This powerful charge should be leveled constantly and consistently against popular culture today (television, movies, music, books) in which demonic control is embarrassingly apparent and easily identified by righteous Christians who see the nakedness of wickedness, while the servants of demons remain blind.

He also presents the teachings of Christ throughout his arguments in defense of Christianity, and carefully explains the doctrines of sin, love, repentance, salvation, and works with Christ’s own words.[10] Often, in today’s world, Christian leaders shy away from the actual words of Christ, choosing instead to offer a hip-version, or a simpler translation of the Word of God to attract new converts.  While Martyr carefully organizes his testimonies according to the hearers convoluted views of God, He still heavily laces his apologetics with the actual words of Christ.  It is a practice that we should use in our defense of Christ today.




Ferguson, Everett.  Church History Volume 1: From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Grand Rapids, MI.:Zondervan, 2005.


Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe. The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.I :Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997.


[1] Everett Ferguson, Church History Volume 1: From Christ to Pre-Reformation (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2005), 72.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alexander Roberts, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.I,, 166.

[4] Ibid, 165.

[5] Fergurson, Church History Volume 1, 74.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ferguson, Church History Volume 1, 75.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Roberts, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.I, 167.

[10] Ibid.

Last modified: Saturday, 17 December 2011, 1:40 PM