Justin Martyr’s Absolution of Constantine’s Sunday

Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr, laying down some mad gang signs yo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is sort of a repost, bringing back a post from 2009 to meet something we discussed this past week in Sunday School. Believe it or not, there is something of a structure to ancient worship services. This is found in Justin’s First Apology, 1.67 (I think, from memory).

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.

When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the ‘Amen.’ A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.

Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.

For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration. (First Apology, 67)

And of course, Pliny the Younger’s letter to the Emperor (10.96-97)

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

We actually have basic elements of a formalized service from very early in Christian history.

More than that, however, is Justin’s reasoning for the assembly on the First Day of the week, called Sunday. Simply put, it is for two reason.

First, because that is the day God began to create the world. Second, it is the day God began to recreate the world in the resurrection of Jesus. It is not because of Constantine and other silly notions as of late, but because of Scripture.

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Sunday School – An Appeal to Rome (Justin and Diognetus)

Plato. Luni marble, copy of the portrait made ...
Plato. Luni marble, copy of the portrait made by Silanion ca. 370 BC for the Academia in Athens. From the sacred area in Largo Argentina, 1925. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following last week’s need to be hated by Rome (i.e., World System) we find Christians appealing to Rome for an official status. As Christianity becomes Christianity, and not simply a secondary Judaism, more and more Gentiles are bringing in their customs, traditions, and philosophies. They are also bringing in the need to be more metropolitan.

Word: Apology, a defense. This is the time of Christian Apologetics, when Christians turned to defending Christianity and thus exploring its theological tenets.

Rome respected one thing: antiquity. This is why they stole every the Greeks had done — from the gods and goddesses to the poems. Because they desired to be themselves ancient. When Rome was introduced to Jerusalem, they begrudgingly accepted their quasi-independence because the Jews could point to Moses and say, “He not only preceded Plato, but Plato respected Moses.” Clement of Alexandria who would use this apologetic technique to bring Plato into use for Christian theology later picked this up. He was not the first, of course.

Please keep in mind, this is the barest of histories here. Just some background information.

The first Christian who used Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers to do his bidding was Justin Martyr (guess how he got his last name). Why would he do such a thing? First, the Gospel of John and the Wisdom of Solomon both allow for Hellenistic philosophy based on the use of the words Logos (Word) and Sophia (Wisdom). Justin latched on to this. The Logos of John became the Logos of Heraclitus. Further, Justin and Clement would insist in a God akin to Plato’s Ultimate God.

Second, by aligning Christianity with both Jerusalem and Athens, he gave it a certain antiquity, which was needed to apply for official State status. This would prevent persecution and allowed for other benefits as well.

There are two such writings springing to mind. The first, of course, is Justin’s First Apology. He is quick to defend against charges of atheism. Why would we be charged with atheism? Because our god (Jesus) was new, unless, of course, you account for the Logos:

Why, then, should this be? In our case, who pledge ourselves to do no wickedness, nor to hold these atheistic opinions, you do not examine the charges made against us; but, yielding to unreasoning passion, and to the instigation of evil demons, you punish us without consideration or judgment. For the truth shall be spoken; since of old these evil demons, effecting apparitions of themselves, both defiled women and corrupted boys, and showed such fearful sights to men, that those who did not use their reason in judging of the actions that were done, were struck with terror; and being carried away by fear, and not knowing that these were demons, they called them gods, and gave to each the name which each of the demons chose for himself. And when Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring these things to light, and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that “he was introducing new divinities;” and in our case they display a similar activity. For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue.

This entire First Apology is well worth the read — and leaves us wondering what might we sacrifice to have our belief system validated? Or, perhaps this is what Christianity was to Justin — the former philosopher who caught wind of Christ and was thus changed forever. Perhaps his mind say in Christ the only answer to all of the questions asked by all philosophies. Maybe for Justin, Jesus was the answer.

The second person is unknown, although some scholars have placed him as Justin. Like the First Apology, this author writes to the Emperor and like Justin, promotes Christianity as compatible with Rome, or at least not in competition with Rome.

The Epistle of Diognetus contains a passage that has come to mean a great deal to me —

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all ; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

I’ll just leave this here.

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More on Ἀπομνημονεύματα and the Gospels

First, read here. Dr. Bird has responded. The reason the connection between Justin and the Socratic defense by Xenophon is that it fits an earlier theory announced by Theodore Zahn and promoted by Robert Grant. (See here: Terence Y. Mullins Vigiliae Christianae Vol. 14, No. 4 (Dec., 1960), pp. 216-224.)

Simply, this: Connecting the Gospels to the ahistorical defense is important because it affirms the possibility that this was the most common understanding of the Gospels. Not so much biography, but bios, in the Plutarchian sense. Anne O’Leary covers some of this in her book, ]]. The idea is this: While the person is historical, the person has now become ahistorical, as is the defense of the person. The defense is a philosophical one, an almost judicial defense. It allows the lawyer, so to speak, to defend the person using elements of historical fact and the teaching of the community (kerygma?). In other words, Mark used only some of Peter’s teaching – Peter’s teaching providing the authority of acceptance – to tell the story of Jesus.

But, this is why I am attracted to this notion of Justine and Xenophon because it underscores the understanding of Zahn and Grant (and me).



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Ἀπομνημονεύματα – Justin Martyr, Xenophon, and the Evangelists

Sanzio 01 Socrates
Sanzio 01 Socrates (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just putting some thoughts on paper here. The first recorded genre classification of the Gospels were by Justin Martyr. He writes,

All who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits (Apology I 67.3)

So, some have taken this to point to the ancient biographies although few knew the difference between ancient and modern biographies. But, I was thinking… Maybe Justin, the Platonist, used the word in a similar fashion to Xenophon who wrote some memoirs of Socrates (So-crates). These Memorabilia of Socrates presents the teacher as defending himself against the charges of the Athenians, but unlike Socrates’ Apology by the same author, this work is a running commentary on sayings and other things of Socrates meant to prove the innocence of the philosopher who died for his people. It is filled with dialogue, narrative, and other genres cobbled together by Xenophon, not as a matter of recording history but as a matter of preserving truth. Tons of stuff in there.

I’m not saying Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John were writing to in the style of Xenophon; however, their style may have allowed Justin to place the two together, especially if the early Church understand the Gospels as a defense of Jesus rather than a record of Jesus.


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Justin Martyr – Christus Victor

What is truth?
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve recently become interested in the powers which Christ defeated in the mythic Christus Victor. No one seems to name them. Perhaps I’m wrong, but the usual suspects, i.e., sin, death, etc…, are principalities where the powers rule. In reading modern theologians who espouse the Christus Victor model, even without calling it as such – I’m looking at you Bishop Willimon – no one actually names the powers.

I remembered reading somewhere, some time ago, that Justin Martyr referred to the other gods of the age as demons. Now, I generally have no use for Justin until I need him. He is either a heretic or a reference point, but nothing in between. Well, at least in my usage of him. Here, he serves as a valuable reference point.

His starting point is Psalm 95.5, in the LXX (if we would have needed the Hebrew, God wouldn’t have given us the Septuagint and St. Augustine), which reads,

Declare his glory among the nations (v3a) … because great is the Lord and very much praiseworthy; he is terrible to all the gods (v4), because all the gods of the nations are demons, but the Lord made the heavens. (v5) – ]].

Justin connects these demons to the story in Genesis 6.1-4 when the sons of God and the daughters of men produced heirs which were for Justin, demons. These demons tricked humanity into worshiping them as gods. Bauckham notes that Justin was able to use to denounce pagan culture as demonic, something altogether different than wicked and/or sinful. In Justin’s 2nd Apology, chapter 5, we read,

But if this idea take possession of some one, that if we acknowledge God as our helper, we should not, as we say, be oppressed and persecuted by the wicked; this, too, I will solve. God, when He had made the whole world, and subjected things earthly to man, and arranged the heavenly elements for the increase of fruits and rotation of the seasons, and appointed this divine law–for these things also He evidently made for man–committed the care of men and of all things under heaven to angels whom He appointed over them. But the angels transgressed this appointment, and were captivated by love of women, and begat children who are those that are called demons; and besides, they afterwards subdued the human race to themselves, partly by magical writings, and partly by fears and the punishments they occasioned, and partly by teaching them to offer sacrifices, and incense, and libations, of which things they stood in need after they were enslaved by lustful passions; and among men they sowed murders, wars, adulteries, intemperate deeds, and all wickedness. Whence also the poets and mythologists, not knowing that it was the angels and those demons who had been begotten by them that did these things to men, and women, and cities, and nations, which they related, ascribed them to god himself, and to those who were accounted to be his very offspring, and to the offspring of those who were called his brothers, Neptune and Pluto, and to the children again of these their offspring. For whatever name each of the angels had given to himself and his children, by that name they called them.

Well, he names the powers, or at least the demons which suffered defeat. For him, the demons were the pagan gods. They were real, not just non-corporeal regimes. The demons were Zeus, Isis, Fudo and others who had long since tricked humanity into following them instead of the One True God. Justin goes on to set Christ against these powers:

…..for the sake of believing men, and for the destruction of the demons. And now you can learn this from what is under your own observation. For numberless demoniacs throughout the whole world, and in your city, many of our Christian men exorcising them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, have healed and do heal, rendering helpless and driving the possessing devils out of the men, though they could not be cured by all the other exorcists, and those who used incantations and drugs. (2nd Apology, 6)

Greg Boyd notes that others among these early writers saw demons as the corrupting forces of this world:

Along the same lines, Tertullian argued that “iseases and other grievous calamities” were the result of demons whose “great business is the ruin of mankind.” When “poison in the breeze blights the apples and the grain while in the flower, or kills them in the bud, or destroys them when they have reached maturity…” one can discern the work of these rebellious guardian spirits (Apology 22). For Tertullian, as for Origen and Athenagorus (and we could add Tatian, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria and others), creation doesn’t consistently reflect the beauty of its Creator because it has been, and is being, corrupted by demonic forces.

I haven’t read all of Justin, because I noted before, he is only present when I need him to bolster my arguments either against him or against someone else, which almost inevitably is still against him. It may be, however, that he has something to offer me in looking for the ‘biblical’ model of atonement. Other authors, more learned than I, note that he contains traces of the penal substitution theory, and that’s fine, so does the New Testament. But, there is an over-arching victory in the whole of the Canon, and one in which we are made partakers (we the Church) and indeed, more than conquerors which we cannot ignore. In this victory, Christ has defeated the powers and their principalities.

For some fuller treatments, see here and here. (Warning, .pdfs)

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Justin Martyr on Fearlessly Confessing because of Creation

But lest some one say to us, “Go then all of you and kill yourselves, and pass even now to God, and do not trouble us,” I will tell you why we do not so, but why, when examined, we fearlessly confess. We have been taught that God did not make the world aimlessly, but for the sake of the human race; and we have before stated that He takes pleasure in those who imitate His properties, and is displeased with those that embrace what is worthless either in word or deed. If, then, we all kill ourselves we shall become the cause, as far as in us lies, why no one should be born, or instructed in the divine doctrines, or even why the human race should not exist; and we shall, if we so act, be ourselves acting in opposition to the will of God. But when we are examined, we make no denial, because we are not conscious of any evil, but count it impious not to speak the truth in all things, which also we know is pleasing to God, and because we are also now very desirous to deliver you from an unjust prejudice. Justin Martyr, Second Apology in ANF(1):189-90. (HT)

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Isaiah 54.9, Wisdom 14: Which ἀντίτυπον of Baptism in 1st Peter 3.20-21?

In the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Justin writes:

Continue reading “Isaiah 54.9, Wisdom 14: Which ἀντίτυπον of Baptism in 1st Peter 3.20-21?”

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The Virgin Birth and Justin Martyr

He is not my favorite Church Father, nor do I really consider him as a Church Father…but that is another story. Coming from Palestine, his take on this matter is still of some importance.

Continue reading “The Virgin Birth and Justin Martyr”

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