“My apologies” in modern vernacular is taken to mean, “I’m sorry.” It implies a request for forgiveness. In classical times, an apologia was a verbal defense, a well-reasoned reply that presented evidence that was supplied by compelling proof. Socrates made such an apologia at his trial before the Athenians where he demonstrated the essential rationality of his position. In that tradition, early Christian apologists set themselves to show “…how Christianity was the embodiment of the noblest conceptions of Greek philosophy and was the truth par excellence (Barnard, Introduction p.2).”
Justin Martyr was such an apologist who lived about 100 years after Christ’s death. This early church father was a Samaritan by birth, but received a Greek education, where he studied Stoic, Peripatetic, Pythagorean, and finally Platonist teachings. Justin became impressed with Platonic philosophy which opened his mind to perceive immaterial things and a freedom of thought. While a Platonist, Justin came to love the prophets and people who were friends of Christ where he deemed that Christianity was the one, sure, worthy philosophy. When asked by the prefect Rusticus to what teaching he held, Justin testified that he tried to learn from all teachings, but he had come to accept the teachings of the Christians as the truth. His conversion to Christianity was via reading the Old Testament of the bible with Christians.
Justin’s First Apology was written to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, his son Verissimus (the philosopher) and Lucius the philosopher. He was writing this defense of the gospel to government officials and the elite intelligentsia who were not believers in Jesus the Christ. In the first part of this treatise, Justin was appealing to the emperor for justice to be meted out to Christians. He made comparisons with pagan ideologies wherein the holders of such were not persecuted, yet Christians were unjustly persecuted for their “philosophy” simply because they were called “Christians.” His object was to disarm belief and demonstrate that Christianity was rational.
In the second part of the apologia Justin started addressing the theological implications of his faith. He wrote of basic proofs and teachings such as:
- The teachings of Christ and the prophets are alone true and older than all other writers (Justin held that his hero, Plato, learned from the writings of Moses);
- Jesus Christ, alone, is the Son of God, His Logos, who appeared on earth for the purpose of conversion and restoration of the human race;
- Before Christ came, there were poets and writers of mythological tales who tried to persuade mankind to believe false gods.
Strangely enough, I was drawn to a statement by Justin in which he does not explain or elaborate, but it pointed to last week’s article, BEFORE TIME BEGAN (Mikeworth). https://www.thecommentarian.com/2019/12/12/before-time-began/.
Justin writes, “But we all hold this common gathering on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God transforming darkness and matter made the Universe, and Jesus Christ our savior on the same day rose from the dead (Barnard p.71).” This is an obvious reference to Genesis 1:1-2 which speaks of the earth as being “unformed and void.” Apparently, God created an unformed, void mass which He called the earth; yet, it sounds as if this mass had a “deep” (sea, abyss) that was characterized by darkness. Yet, the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:1-2). Justin does not discuss whether matter had an eternal existence or whether it was a creation of God in an unformed state of which God’s follow-up action was to create the material world. There is no suggestion in this Apologia that Justin is criticizing the Platonic doctrine of the eternity of matter.
“Justin, in fact, mentions formless matter only in order to emphasize that it was accepted by Moses in Genesis 1:1-3, and that, for both Moses and Plato, God brought the Universe into existence by working on, and changing, formless matter. It is idle to speculate how Justin interpreted Genesis 1:1. He is content to accept the text as it stands and to see in it no conflict with the teaching he received from Middle Platonism. His rather non-speculative approach may be due to the fact that he did not connect the origin of evil with that of matter (Barnard p.168).” This approach to this topic is consistent with certain circles of Palestinian Judaism of his day. He did not elaborate on the creation ex nihilo debate, but seemed content to simply believe that creation was good and for the benefit of mankind. This debate rages on in academic and religious circles yet today as if we are any better equipped to understand the “how” of the beginning. There was a time not long ago that scientists believed that matter was eternal, but modern science has convinced most people that there was some sort of Big Bang wherein the matter of the Universe was formed and is still marching toward the outer reaches of somewhere. In my mind it still begs the question of eternal matter before time began. Most Christians and Jews believe that God is eternal, pre-existent creator of all that is seen and unseen. If God is Spirit, does spirit consist of some sort of matter? “In the beginning God…” supposes that God was prior to the beginning, but was anything else existing prior to the creation of heaven and earth? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made (John 1:1-3).” By this New Testament scripture we know that God was a binary Elohim: WORD distinct from GOD, yet ONE. The Word (LOGOS) prior to “becoming flesh” (incarnate in Jesus) was with God prior to creation (Heiser, http://twopowersinheaven.com/). Was that it…just the two of them? [For a fuller discussion on the Two Powers of the Godhead- https://youtu.be/CUkhWBKCuXc] (Heiser)
In the Lord’s confrontation with Job, HE asked a series of questions related to the creation of the earth:
“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hast the understanding. Who determined the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who stretched the line upon it? Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the cornerstone thereof, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 38:4-7)?” So, who were these sons of God? They were present at the creation of the earth according to this scripture. “Right from the start, then, God has company – other divine beings, the sons of God (Hebrew: bene Elohim). Most discussions of what’s around before creation omit the members of the heavenly host. That’s unfortunate, because God and the sons of God, the divine family, are the first pieces of the mosaic (Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible p. 24-25). Dr. Heiser elaborates that these witnesses to the creation of earth are intelligent nonhuman beings – sons of God – indicating family, the unseen family, the original family of God.
Now, for my apology, actually meaning, “I’m sorry.” Certainly, this article could be charged with chasing rabbit trails…probably violating all kinds of composition cohesion. Starting with Justin Martyr’s unwillingness to address the issues surrounding pre-creation (i.e. “in the beginning”) was just enough of a teaser to send me onto this rabbit trail. So it is with my study time, but I find it so thrilling in an academically undisciplined way. Hopefully the reader can find some redeeming quality and value in my research.
Barnard, Leslie William. “Introduction.” Martyr, Justin. St. Justin Martyr: The first and Second Apologies. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1997. 1-21. Print.
Barnard, Leslie William. “Notes to the First Apology.” Martyr, Justin. St. Justin Martyr: The First and Second Apologies. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1997. 97-186. Print.
Genesis. The Holy Scriptures – Masoretic Text. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955. Print.
Heiser, Michael. “http://twopowersinheaven.com/.” n.d. drmsh.com. Website Document. 17 December 2019.
—. The Two Powers of the Godhead in Jewish Thought. Gig Harbor, WA, 4 May 2013. Youtube Video.
—. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015. Print.
Job. The Holy Scriptures – Masoretic Text. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication society of America, 1955. Print.
John. The Holy Bible – NKJV. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010. Print.
Mikeworth, Michael. “BEFORE TIME BEGAN.” 12 December 2019. thecommentarian.com. Website. 12 December 2019.