View Article  Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 51-55 Plato, Student of Moses

March 27, 2011 – “Plato, Student of Moses”  -- led by John Weicher


Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 51-55


Justin finally finishes with prophecies from the Hebrew Bible, which is a relief.  But instead he reverts to parallels between Christianity to paganism, arguing that pagans took their myths from Jewish prophecy:


  1. If Christ  rose to heaven on the foal of a donkey, :so did Bellerophon on Pegasus;
  2. If Christ was born of a virgin, so was Perseus;
  3. If Christ was “strong  as a giant to run his course,” Hercules was stronger;
  4. If Christ healed the sick miraculously, so did Aesculapius.


But the pagans have said nothing about the cross, because they don’t understand it, and the cross is the centerpiece of Christianity.  By this time, however, the Emperor or his censors and advisers might be pardoned if they’d given up taking any of Justin’s arguments and analogies seriously.


View Article  Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 44-50 Socrates the Christian

March 20, 2011 – “Socrates the Christian”



Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 44-50


In chapters 44-50 Justin continues to quote Isaiah, ten times from various chapters including the first and last, prophesying the coming of the Messiah.   By this time he has out-Matthewed Matthew in culling fulfilled prophecies from the Hebrew Bible.  Matthew has a dozen, possibly one or two more; Justin has more than twice that many.  One has to wonder yet again why he thinks the Roman Emperor would be persuaded by Jewish scripture.


He then invites the emperor to worry about the loyalty of the Christians with a reference to the oracles of Hystaspes, foretelling the fall of the Roman Empire, the return of rule to the east, and the coming of the Savior.  Hystaspes was borrowed from Zoroastrianism, where his name was Vashtaspa; his name was attached to a set of prophecies dating apparently from the first century BC; the book was banned in Rome, but Justin knows what’s in it.  So we have a Christian protesting his loyalty to the emperor about 20 years after Bar Kochba’s rebellion, and dragging in a reference to subversive writings. 


In chapter 46 he refers to Socrates and Heraclitus as Christians because they “lived reasonably,” and adds Abraham, Elijah, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego on the same basis.  This calls to mind C.S. Lewis’ comments in Reflections on the Psalms concerning Vergil as very nearly anticipating Christianity and perhaps coming to know the full truth after his death



View Article  Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 36-43

In chapters 36-41 Justin continues to quote prophecies of the coming Messiah from the Hebrew Bible, mainly from Isaiah and Psalms – seven from the former and five from the latter, including all of Psalms 1 and 2, as a single quote.  Chapter 41 ends with a quotation from Psalm 96, most of the first ten verses.  The last sentence (10a) is “the Lord reigneth from the tree.”  Neither the Septuagint nor the Masoretic text have anything like “from the tree,” but both Tertullian and Augustine have it, as well as Justin.  The Epistle of Barnabas talks about “the tree” also (chapter 8).  It appears that the early church fathers believed that the original psalm included those words, but the rabbis deleted it, ostensibly to discourage anyone from concluding that David foresaw Jesus and his crucifixion.   


We remain puzzled why Justin would expect a Roman emperor to be persuaded by Jewish prophecies that Jesus was the Son of God and Christianity was the only true religion. 


Chapter 42 reminded us of “Alice’s axiom,” but in reverse.  Alice’s axiom is, “Ex Eventu prophecy is very accurate.”  Put differently, if you know something has happened, you predict that it will happen.  Justin turns that around.  If the prophets know that something will take place (thanks to God), they speak as if it has already taken place.  Dating anything on that basis would be a mare’s nest.


In chapter 43, Justin proves he is no Protestant, and especially no Presbyterian.  He scorns the idea of predestination, rips it up, down and sideways, and he doesn’t believe in justification by faith alone, either.   



View Article  Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 30-35


After reading the schedule section aloud to myself (Ch. 30-39), I decided to shorten it, which seemed to work well. 


In these chapters Justin develops an argument from Hebrew Bible prophecy to prove that Jesus was the Son of God, quoting not only the common passages from Isaiah, Zephaniah, and Micah, but several other passages from Isaiah, and also Genesis (Ch. 49) and Psalms (16).  He knows how the Septuagint was produced, without mentioning the notion that all 70 translators independently wrote exactly the same words; and he knows better than Matthew that Jewish writers often employed “parallelism” in poetry and prose – he doesn’t follow Matthew into the absurdity that Jesus rode two animals at once into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Class discussion raised the possibility that Justin wasn’t really writing to the Emperor at all, but to Jews who he thought should become Christians.  It seems unlikely that a Roman Emperor would find consistency with Jewish prophecy to be strong evidence of Jesus’ divinity, but the ancient world did believe in oracles.