ANF – First Apology of Justin Martyr

This is the longest of the Ante-Nicene Fathers I’ve encountered so far, but also in many ways the richest.  He writes to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius in the early or mid 2nd century, asking for their understanding and a change in their treatment of Christians.  He makes his defense for Christians on several fronts, becoming our first apologetic resource preserved for such a long period of time.

He argues that Christians at worst should be considered foolish or silly for their beliefs, inasmuch as their beliefs and corresponding behaviors in no way violate Roman laws of conduct or otherwise cause problems for the Empire, but rather are actually models of good conduct.  They ideally should be respected as such, but Justin knows this is probably a stretch.

He argues that if the Christians are to be evaluated philosophically or theologically for their beliefs in terms of  whether or not this would merit persecution, this would be a considerably unfair  standard applied to no other religion in the Empire.  The incredulity of the Christian claims are certainly no crazier than many of the Greek/Roman myths which so many people espouse at least a formal belief in!

He spends a great deal of time quoting from the Old Testament to show how the events of the life of Christ were prophesied.  He then spends time quoting from the Old Testament to show how many of the Greek and Roman myths were actually derivative (knowingly or otherwise) from the writings of Moses.

It struck me that Justin assumes his readers/hearers will take  his claims seriously.  In other words, he presumes they espouse at least a surface level belief in divinity and prophesy, and that they could easily ascertain for themselves whether or not the works from the Old Testament he cites actually do predate Greek and Roman myths.  This is fascinating to me, living in a day and age where the prevailing assumption is increasingly against any sort of personal divinity, against the concept of specific, verifiable prophecy, and against the idea that Scripture is anywhere nearly as old as it appears or purports to be.

It’s hard to imagine how different the apologetic task would be if these three assumptions were still in place today.  To be able to take people to the Word and allow it to speak to them instead of having to first clear away all the false ideas and erroneous understandings regarding the reliability and age of the texts!  But even then, many of the people I speak with about the faith presume there is no absolute truth, that any god will do – or none at all.

At the end of his defense he includes quotes from several people, each claiming Christians should be treated more equitably.  Most of these are considered spurious – imaginative religious fiction which Justin might not have known as such.  The one most likely to be authentic is a letter from Emperor Antonine’s father, Hadrian, indicating that Christians should not be subject to persecution or legal actions against them unless they are indeed guilty of breaking Roman law.

One Response to “ANF – First Apology of Justin Martyr”

  1. ANF – Second Apology of Justin | Living Apologetics Says:

    […] of Roman authorities.  It is much shorter and far less complete than his better known (and longer) First Apology.  Here, as there, he points out the ideological inconsistencies with persecuting and prosecuting […]

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