JUSTIN MARTYR. – One of the first of the Apologists worth considering was Justin Martyr. It would be more proper to call him, “Justin, The Martyr”. His last name was not Martyr. The word “martyr” was added to his name because he died as a martyr.
Justin was born between the years 114 and 165 A.D. Some historians give the former date while other favor the latter. He was born in Schechem, a city in Samaria and called himself a Samaritan. Here too, historians cannot agree, and some claim that both his father and grandfather were either Roman or Greek.
He was born in heathendom and brought up in all the heathen customs of that day. As a young man he became interested in philosophy and studied it diligently. However the heathen philosophies of that day did not satisfy him, as is plain from the face that he accepted successively Stoicism, Aristotelianism, Pythagoreanism and Platonism. His rejection of the one and seeking the other was due to the fact that they did not satisfy him. They did not answer all the questions that rose in his mind. Not until he was converted and embraced the Christian faith did he find the truth, and then he devoted his life to teaching what he called, “The True Philosophy”, namely, the Christian faith. Of it he states that the Hebrew prophets were, “men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers. They glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all things, and proclaimed His Son the Christ.” He also stated of the Christian faith, “I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable.” Even after his conversion, he still considered himself to be a philosopher.
There are those who maintain that Justin was not really converted and that he simply had a historical and not a saving faith. It is claimed that he remained a heathen philosopher whose philosophy was influenced by the Christian faith. There are indeed many things about him which would cause one to question his conversion and faith. It is not an easy thing to determine whether he should be considered to be a Christian convert or not. Consider only the fact that he rarely spoke of the forgiveness of sins, and when he does, he gives it a very subordinate place. On the other hand he places much emphasis upon the fact that Christianity was the oldest, truest and most divine of all philosophies. He did not condemn all the heathen philosophies as godless and antichristian. He simply raised the Christian faith above them all as the safest and most profitable.
From his writings it is plain that he never let go entirely of his philosophical ideas. He surely did not accept or understand all the truth of Scripture as they were known in his day. Yet at the same time it cannot be denied that his teachings show a development of doctrine. From him we learn one of the clearest conceptions of the doctrine of the Trinity that was taught up till that time. He maintained the generation of the Son by the Father and that the Father and Son were two distinct persons though they dwelt in one divine essence. He likewise taught that Father, Son and Spirit must be the object of our worship.
Justin also believed in the incarnation, that is, the coming of the Son of God into our flesh. He proved from the Old Testament Scriptures that Christ is the Son of God. In defense of Christianity that it is the “True Philosophy” he maintained that the philosopher Plato learned many things from Moses. However, in this connection, it may also be stated that he considered Plato and all the heathen philosophers to be Christian in as far as they obeyed Christ’s teachings. What he meant by obeying Christ’s teachings was, of course, not the spirit of the law but the letter and simply that their teachings in some ways resembled those of Christ.
Whether we must consider him to be a true Christian convert of not, he certainly can be classed as an apologist. Whether God used him as a believer or as an unbeliever, it is plain that he did make a notable defense of Christian faith in the midst of a world of opposition and persecution.
In his “Apology” he strove to prove to the Emperor that the terrible persecution being inflicted upon the Christians was an injustice. They, he claimed in this “Apology”, were the representatives of the “true philosophy” and were the true worshippers of God.
How right he was on this score! The Greek world was steeped in immorality, in fact immorality was taught to be virtue. In contrast to this immorality among those who were not Christians, the Christians were a different people, the immoral were free and are allowed to persecute a people with such a perfect set of morals and moral principles. In this way he strove to prove his point that Christianity is the true philosophy and has an equal right to exist with the inferior philosophies that are permitted and encouraged.