Justin Martyr: A Heretic By All Standards

Justin, called Justin Martyr, is considered to have been an important religious leader and saint by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and even most Protestants

But not by the COG, as some of us have studied and considered the ramifications of several of his teachings.

However, Justin, from a historical persective, does add information of use to those interested in early Church history.

 Justin was in Ephesus as were early Christians.

                                     Ancient Ephesus

                           Photo of Ancient Ephesus taken June 2005

Perhaps one of the most important points that needs to be emphasized was that there were two main groups of professing Christians in Ephesus during Justin’s time (plus the various known gnostic and other heretical groups).

Paul told those in Ephesus,

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk… (Ephesians 4:17). 

Yet certain ones like Justin did not heed this. In Ephesus, Justin Martyr wrote, in response to a Jew named Trypho,

But if, Trypho, some of your race, who say they believe in this Christ, compel those Gentiles who believe in this Christ to live in all respects according to the law given by Moses, or choose not to associate so intimately with them, I in like manner do not approve of them (Justin. Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 47. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

Thus, Justin admits that there were two groups in Ephesus, one that kept all the law and the other that did not. He also admits that he did not approve of those who kept the law.

Justin Martyr records this accusation from Trypho,

But this is what we are most at a loss about: that you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves better than others, are not in any particular separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living from the nations, in that you observe no festivals or Sabbaths…you do not obey His commandments (Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter 10. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc.). 

While the Ephesians were told to live differently than the other Gentiles in whose nation they co-existed with, those with Justin Martyr could not be distinguished. It is interesting to note that Trypho expected that Justin would have kept the Sabbath–this is because that was the common practice of those that professed Christ in Asia Minor.

It is believed that the discourse between Trypho and Justin Martyr took place in Ephesus, though Justin Martyr later ended up in Rome (Lebreton J. St. Justin Martyr)–which may have been when he adopted Sunday.

Thus, there would have had to be two very different professing Christian groups in Ephesus. Justin Martyr specifically claimed his group did not observe the Sabbath, keep the Feasts, or eat unleavened bread (Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter 18)—yet, according to the Catholic historian Eusebius, Polycrates later confirmed that Passover was continually kept on the 14th and unleavened bread was still eaten annually by the Christians who were the followers of Polycarp and John in Ephesus (Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapter 24). Yet, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox claim both Polycarp and Justin as saints–the two were too different for both to have been saints. To determine which of the two could have been, please read this article completely and also read the article Polycarp of Smyrna.

Perhaps it should be noted that in the famous letter The Martyrdom of Polycarp it is clear that those in Polycarp’s area, which included Ephesus, still kept the Sabbath (Verse 8.1. Holmes MW, ed. As translated in The Apostolic Fathers Greek Texts and English Translations. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 3rd printing 2004, p. 231) (more can information can be found in the article Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, & Rome).

It is possible that the reason that Justin Martyr decided to leave Ephesus and go to Rome was because the true Christians in Ephesus (and nearby Smyrna) would not accept him or his teachings. 

Although they keep Sunday, there are many teachings that Justin had, however, that even  Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and even most Protestants would find troublesome.


Was Christ Cursed?

One concern that Trypho had was,

But whether Christ should be so shamefully crucified, this we are in doubt about. For whosoever is crucified is said in the law to be accursed, so that I am exceedingly incredulous on this point (Dialogue. Chapter 89).

Ultimately, Justin responded with,

Therefore our suffering and crucified Christ was not cursed by the law, but made it manifest that He alone would save those who do not depart from His faith (Dialogue. Chapter 111).

This seems to conflict with what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13,

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”).

Thus, it appears that Justin somewhat contradicted this scripture. Instead, Justin perhaps should have simply quoted the entire section in Galatians 2:10-14 where Paul appears to address this particular concern.

Who is the Supreme Pontiff and the Father? Is the Roman Senate Sacred?

Justin addressed his First Apology to the Emperor and “to the sacred Senate” (The First Apology. Chapter I).

And in his conclusion mentioned,

The Emperor Caesar Titus AElius Adrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, Supreme Pontiff, in the fifteenth year of his tribuneship, Consul for the third time, Father of the fatherland, to the Common Assembly of Asia, greeting (The First Apology. Chapter LXVIII).

The ultimate “Father of the fatherland” would seem to be God the Father, though it is likely that Justin is simply trying a bit too hard to be polite here.

Catholics may have been surprised to learn that when addressing the Supreme Pontiff in Rome, Justin was referring to the Emperor (the bishop of Rome did not take this title to himself until the late 4th Century). Pontiff is a term that seems to mean bridge builder and has historically, in a religious context, has suggested being the bridge between the Chief God (Jupiter for the Romans, or the Father for the Catholics) and man. Or essentially, a mediator.

The Bible teaches this, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). It is also not likely that God would consider that the assembly of the Roman Senate was sacred (e.g. Amos 5:21).

Justin also stated,

For I choose to follow not men or men’s doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians (Dialogue. Chapter 80).

While those in the COGs would agree that souls die (Ezekiel 18:4) and are not taken to heaven upon death (Job:14:14; John 3:13), those in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches would seem to disagree with Justin here.

Justin is clearly stating that those who believe that souls are taken to heaven when they die are not Christians. Therefore, it is surprising that any in Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches would consider Justin to be a saint, since he teaches that none of them can be.

An article of related interest may be Did the Early Church Teach Human Immortality?

More on Justin can be found in the articles:

Justin Martyr: Saint, Heretic, or Apostate? Justin is considered one of the first Christian theologians and scholars. But did he support a Gnostic version of Christianity? Do you know what he taught about souls going to heaven upon death? This article shows from his own writings, what Justin really taught.
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?

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