St. Ephraem—Syrian Apologist of the Fourth Century?


Students of the life and work of Ephraem the Syriac agree that he died on this date in 373 A.D. He wrote hymns, poems, sermons, and biblical commentary. His style and the tenor of his theology was a blend of the mystical and the intellectually staid.

In Theandros, the online journal of Orthodox Christian theology and philosophy, Mary C. Sheridan recounts his huge significance for the Syriac church. Her essay is interesting both for its insight into the life and work of Ephraem and for its discussion of the historical context of his activity.

In my series of posts on Christianity and its tradition of apologetics (see links below), I’ve introduced lesser-known figures and highlighted their contributions. I’m pleased to add this brief post about St. Ephraem (ca. 306-373). In his case, we find a fascinating reflection on apologetic themes in ancient poetry. I don’t know much about his work. But Mary Sheridan includes in her article a sample of his poetry where he acknowledges the value of nature as a source of revelation and places it in relation to Scripture as revelation. The medium of poetry may here be specially valuable for showing how natural theology draws men and women into contact with special revelation.

Ephraem considered both nature and Scripture the “twin sources of revelation.”

Once Nature and Scripture had cleaned the land
–they sowed in it new commandments
in the land of the heart, so that it might bear fruit,
praise for the Lord of Nature
glory for the Lord of Scripture.

He called Nature, the Old Testament, and the New Testament three lyres used in singing the Word of God. He says:

The Word of the Most High came down
      and clothed himself in
a weak body with two hands.
He took up and balanced two lyres,
one in his right hand and one in his left.
A third he put in front of him,
to be a witness for the other two;
for it was the middle lyre corroborating
that their Lord was singing to their accompaniment.

I encourage you to visit Sheridan’s page for more about St. Ephraem.

◊ ◊ ◊

Other posts in this series . . .

Conrad Emil Lindberg—On God and Revelation


On this date in 1852, Lutheran theologian Conrad Emil Lindberg was born at Jönköping, Sweden. In 1871, Lindberg (1852-1930) moved to the United States to attend Augustana College and Theological Seminary. In due course, he was ordained and appointed to ministry in American churches serving Swedish immigrants. Later he returned to Augustana College where he was professor of theology. At Augustana, Lindberg taught systematic theology, hermeneutics, apologetics, dogmatics, ethics, liturgics, and church polity. Lindberg’s Christian Dogmatics (published first in 1898 in Swedish, and in English in 1922) includes material of interest to the Christian apologist.

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Concerning the Existence of God

Inasmuch as it cannot be proved that man and the world are not eternal, they must have had a beginning and in such case necessarily a cause. The concept of causality has therefore great weight in proving God’s existence. . . . In accordance with the concept of causality as a proof of God’s existence we consider God as a cause by reason of the fact that we know ourselves as causes. We know ourselves as causes because we are conscious of our will. To will is to cause. (19)

The Value of Theistic Arguments

Generally speaking, a Christian needs no such proofs, but in the hour of doubt and spiritual assault they become of great value and help. (20)

Arguments Without Force

In presenting arguments to prove the existence of God the following methods must be rejected: 1) When men essay to prove God’s existence as they would that of a material object; 2) when proofs are asserted to be based on direct or intuitive experience; 3) argumentum a tuto, which implies that it is doubtful whether or not God exists, but that it is safer to assume His existence and does no harm, while it may be dangerous to deny His existence, if He does exist; 4) argumentum ab utili, which sets forth the great benefit of faith in a personal God.

The Ethico-Theological Proof for God’s Existence It is not Lindberg’s aim to advance arguments for God’s existence, but only to present brief statements of the basic thrust of each of the main “ordinary” arguments. Here is his statement of the ethico-theological proof;

The will of man cannot be ethically determined by any human will, nor in the last instance can it be determined by impersonal nature. The human will points to a personal God by whom it is materially determined so that the formal freedom receives its proper content. This proof has two forms or names: 1) Argumentum ad conscientia recti or the proof of conscience, which implies that conscience is aware of the moral law and that man perceives an inner voice which convinces him of the existence of a higher being. 2) Argumentum morale or the moral proof by which man, conscious of the union of virtue and blessedness, draws the conclusion that a higher being must exist who shall reward the virtuous and punish the unrighteous. (24)

Lindberg attributes arguments of this general form to Cicero and Seneca, Abelard and Raimund of Sabunde, and Immanuel Kant. On General and Supernatural Revelation Lindberg asserts that “if a God exists, He must reveal Himself in some way” (28). There are two main modalities of divine revelation, the “general,” or revelatio generalis, and the “supernatural,” or revelatio speciales.

Revelatio generalis . . . is that natural revelation of God through which He reveals Himself in the conscience of man, in the kingdom of nature, and in history. (28) Revelatio speciales . . . is that external act of God by which He reveals Himself to man through the Logos, the personal Word, and through the Holy Scriptures, so that all men may receive saving knowledge of Him. (30)

Lindberg’s discussion of supernatural, or special, revelation is divided into four sections: (1) the possibility of revelation, (2) the necessity of revelation, (3) the reality of revelation, and (4) the relation between reason and revelation (pp. 31-34). The conditions for the possibility of revelation are set forth. Objections come from deists and pantheists. Deists interject that for God to reveal himself by some external means would disturb the natural order of things determined by the Creator. In addition, it would reflect negatively on the supposed power and intelligence of God to create a universe that reflects his genius. Lindberg answers that:

All nature is permeated by spiritual power and God is ever active in sustaining the universe in never-ceasing creational activity. (31)

The Necessity of Special Divine Revelation Lindberg’s two paragraphs on the necessity of revelation are especially good:

The necessity of a special revelation was recognized even by the heathens, such as Plato. The history of religion clearly demonstrates this necessity. The founder of every religion has claimed a special revelation. The history of philosophy itself reveals the need of a special revelation when we consider the contradictions and conflicts that have arisen on all the most important subjects. The necessity of a special revelation is grounded in the need of salvation, the occasion for it being the Fall into sin. This revelation was accidental on the ground of sin as a presupposition, but it was not accidental in the sense that it could have been inhibited after sin had entered the world. Revelation was necessary from the divine viewpoint in order that the design and purpose of creation and salvation might be realized. Revelation was necessary for man because he was powerless to save himself from the power and condemnation of sin. (32)

I concur with this general statement of the need for revelation. A complete Apologetic should include a description of the need for revelation. If revelation is possible, as it seems easy to establish, then we should first consider whether to expect any further special revelation in the interest of determining whether God has in fact produced a revelation of himself that goes beyond what is learned from general revelation. There is strong independent support for the claim that God has produced a revelation, and for the specifically Christian revelation claim. But remembering (a) what is revealed about God by natural means, (b) the probability this lends to the supposition that God both could and would produce a revelation, and (c) the independent human need for revelation, does two things for us when we ask whether God has produced further special revelation. First, we are made to expect additional revelation from God; second, we are provided some means of identifying appropriate criteria for (a) recognizing what should be included as content of any revelation claim, and (b) confirming the authenticity of a particular revelation claim by means of a suitable miracle. With these elements in place and logically-ordered, presentation of evidence for the Christian revelation claim should enjoy a more positive reception.

◊ ◊ ◊

Other posts in this series . . .

Great Dates in the Apologetics Calendar—June 8


June 8 is unusual for the many dates bearing some relation to Christian apologetics.

1686 – Humphrey Prideaux graduated with D.D. from Christ Church, Oxford (installed as Dean of Norwich on this date in 1702)

1809 – Death of Thomas Paine, antagonist against Christianity and author of The Age of Reason (published in three installments: 1794, 1795, 1807)

1810 – Death of William Finch, whose 1797 Bampton lectureship was titled “The Objections of Infidel Historians and other writers against Christianity” (eight sermons)

1889 – Death of Christian metaphysical poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, famous for “Pied Beauty” (written in 1877, and published in 1918) and “God’s Grandeur” (also composed in 1877); also the sonnet “Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I conted”

1894 – Birth of Wilbur M. Smith, author of the thick volume of Christian evidences called Therefore Stand

1903 – Birth of G. C. Berkouwer, theologian in the Dutch Reformed tradition, whose many books include The Providence of God (1952) and General Revelation (1955)

1941 – C. S. Lewis preached his sermon “The Weight of Glory”

1954 – Death of Kenneth Escott Kirk, bishop of Oxford who wrote in defense of Christian moral philosophy

2007 – Death of Richard Rorty, postmodernist critic of religion

◊ ◊ ◊

Other posts in this series . . .

W. H. Griffith Thomas (1861-1924) – How We Got Our Bible


Born in 1861, W. H. Griffith Thomas died on this date in 1924. His greatest and most sophisticated work is his book The Principles of Theology, a commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church. But one short and reader-friendly book that should interest students of Christian apologetics is How We Got Our Bible. (Note: The full text of this book is available online here.) Here are some themes discussed in this fine little book:W. H. Griffith Thomas The Canonicity of the Bible On the question of which books are to be recognized as divinely inspired and constitutive of God’s written revelation, Thomas writes:

The answer is that it is quite easy to prove that our Bible is the same as the church has had through the centuries. We start with the printed Bibles of today and it is obviously easy to show that they correspond with the printed Bibles of the sixteenth century, or the time when printing was invented. From these we can go back through the English and Latin versions until we reach to the great manuscripts of the fourth century as represented by the three outstanding codices known as the Codex Sinaiticus (in Petrograd), the Codex Vaticanus (in Rome), and the Codex Alexandrinus (in the British Museum). Then we can go back still farther and compare the use of Scripture in the writings of the Fathers of the third century, and from these work back to the second century when versions in several languages are found. From this it is but a short step to the time of the apostles and the actual composition of the New Testament writings. There is no reasonable doubt that we possess today what has always been regarded as the Scriptures of the Christian church. (15-16)

As to the Old Testament,

The proof . . . can be shown along similar lines. Our Old Testament is identical with the Bible of the Jews at the present time. This is the translation of Hebrew manuscripts dating from several centuries past, and the fact of the Jews always having used the same Bible as they do today is a proof that all through the ages the Christian Church has not been mistaken in its inclusion of the Old Testament in its Bible. An additional evidence of great value is the fact that the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek about two centuries before Christ, and this translation is essentially the same as the Hebrew text from which we get our Old Testament. (16)

Details of this proposal are elaborated in chapter 2, where Thomas states that “the basis of our acceptance of the New Testament is what is called in technical language ‘Apostolicity’; because the books came either from Apostolic authors, or through Apostolic sanction. Our view of the Old Testament corresponds to this” (23). The Inspiration of the Bible Thomas first approaches questions about the grounds for belief in the inspiration of Scripture in a natural but often neglected way. He reasons that the fundamental question is whether the Bible has divine authority. If there is good reason to think so, then we can ask how its authority was ensured. And the answer to that is given in the doctrine of inspiration. So his discussion begins with an argument for the need for a religious authority in the conduct of our lives and for the authority of the Bible as the answer to this need. He then expounds on the doctrine of biblical inspiration in chapters 9 and 10. But his stress is on the first point.

At the outset, two things should be said: (1) If we accept the Authority of Scripture we really need not trouble about any particular theory of Inspiration, but (2) if we seek to know as fully as we can what Inspiration means we should confine ourselves strictly to facts, since Inspiration when properly understood is not a theory, but a fact. It is something we accept, whether we can explain it or not. (86)

The facts considered in the development of a theory of inspiration are those that are presented in the Scriptures themselves, as these witness to their own nature and production. Thomas rehearses the familiar data of specific passages on this question. Judaism and the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity

In the Old Testament emphasis is rightly placed on the unity of the Godhead as against the ‘gods many’ of heathenism. But in the New Testament there is the additional revelation of the Trinity, which is not only not contradictory of the Unity, but is based on it and developed out of it. Every one knows that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity never had the slightest connection with polytheism, but grew out of Jewish monotheism. It is significant that with all the Jewish objections to Christianity in Paul’s time, no trace can be found of any opposition to his doctrine of a distinction between the Deity of the Father and the Deity of the Son, which was the germ of the fully-developed doctrine of the Trinity. (79-80)

He then adds:

The explanation of this was that the Jewish believers, having been led by experience into an acceptance of Christ as a divine Redeemer (and thereby to a distinction in the Deity) found in their Old Testament anticipatory hints of the Trinity. They realized that the unity of the Godhead was compound not simple, as the Hebrew words for ‘one’ clearly indicate (Deut. 6:4; Exod. 26:6-11; Ezek. 37:16-19). (80)

Here we see sensitivity to a problem that would later arise with contact between Christianity and Islam. Whereas the Hebrew doctrine of God propounded in the Old Testament is not explicitly revealed as a Trinity, what is said of God there is (1) compatible with the Christian doctrine, and (2) revealed in anticipation of more to come. Faith and Reason For all of his emphasis on the requirement of faith and the authority of the Bible, Thomas is no fideist.

The Bible is supreme over reason. It is the light of reason and of human thought. Revelation, because it comes from God, cannot possibly dishonor reason, which also is from God. Reason is the judge of our need of revelation. It examines the claims of revelation; but once those claims are accepted, reason takes a subordinate place, and revelation is supreme. Reason examines, tests, sifts, inquires, but the moment it has become convinced that this or that comes from God, then, like Joshua of old, it says: ‘What saith my Lord unto his servant?’ So, though revelation is supreme over reason, reason examines the credentials of revelation and then submits to them. Since Christ is our Authority, what we need is the rational conviction that the Bible is the best form in which his Word reaches us, and then we submit to it, and it becomes supreme over our reason and life. (38-39)

There is always the theme of practical concern in this book about How We Got Our Bible. is not a technical treatise. It is quite intentionally written for easy accessibility. In his conclusion to chapter 10, on the inspiration of the Bible, W. H. Griffith Thomas warns against an overly-intellectualized approach to the questions he treats.

A great number of our problems are theoretical. They come from places where people spin theories absolutely remote from human life. But if we go out into the world and tell a man of the Lord Jesus Christ, and get that man to ask, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ we shall very soon get verification of the Word of God; and when we have that, we shall not need much, if any, further testimony to its inspiration. (105)

He means that commendation of the faith, when it issues in persuasion on the basis of good evidence, produces confidence in the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God.

◊ ◊ ◊

Other posts in this series . . .

Arnold Lunn (1888-1974) – Skiing Expert, Agnostic, and Christian Apologist


Arnold Lunn was born to a Methodist minister, but he was himself agnostic and a critic of Christianity—until he was 45 years old, when he converted to the faith. Today is the anniversary of his death in 1974.

Lunn was a professional skier and full-time enthusiast. He founded the Alpine Ski Club and the Kandahar Ski Club. He brought slalom skiing to the racing world, and he’s the namesake for a double black diamond ski trail at Taos Ski Valley.

Lunn credited his agnosticism to the wholly unconvincing cause of Anglicanism. He looked in vain for persuasive arguments for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. Later he Book Cover-Arnold Lunn-The Third Daywould say that “an odd hour or two at the end of a boy’s school life might not be unprofitably spend in armouring him against the half-baked dupes of ill informed secularists” (The Third Day, xvii). He wrote in criticism of the faith and debated Christianity’s prominent defenders.

Despite his religiously agnostic stance, Lunn found that problems for scientific naturalism proved equally recalcitrant. This created a dilemma for him. But his vigorous opposition to Christianity was guided by an intellectual honesty that was helpless before the evidence he exhumed. In due course he gave up and converted to Christianity. All the energy he had devoted in the cause against Christianity he now mustered on behalf of Christianity. He published several books in support of Christian belief.

He famously debated two major critics, C. E. M. Joad and J. B. S. Haldane. The inside flap of his book The Third Day observes that Lunn was an effective apologist “because he has learnt apologetics in the controversial arena.” But Lunn is unusual for having taken alternate sides in this arena. As he wrote in a pamphlet, “I can imagine no better training for the Church than to spend, as I did, a year arguing the case against Catholicism with a Catholic, and a second year in defending the Catholic position against an agnostic.”

Lunn was prolific. He wrote manuals in skiing and mountaineering, fiction, memoirs, and popular books of Christian evidences. Personal letters between himself and both Joad (Is Christianity True?, 1933) and Haldane (Science and the Supernatural, 1935) were published, as well.

Here are a few excerpts from his book in defense of the resurrection of Jesus:

Substantial Truth Under Circumstantial Variety

William Paley pointed out that human testimony is generally to be accepted when the “substantial truth” of witnesses survives despite “circumstantial variety.” This principle is practiced in courts of law when evaluating testimonial evidence presented during trial. The rule applies also in weighing the testimony of eyewitnesses to Jesus following his resurrection from the dead. Arnold Lunn puts the point this way:

If it could be proved that the various accounts which we possess of the events of the first Easter Sunday and of the subsequent appearances of Jesus to the disciples were not wholly consistent so far as details are concerned, this fact might be difficult to reconcile with any theory of direct inspiration or Biblical inerrancy but would not invalidate the evidence so far as the central fact of the Resurrection is concerned. (70-71)

Lunn is not conceding anything. He is not supposing that there are real contradictions in the eyewitness testimony. His point is that even if there were discrepancies, this would not disqualify their common testimony that Jesus did rise from the dead.

The “Collective Hallucination” Hypothesis

Lunn writes with good humor when he responds to a longstanding objection to the resurrection claim.

The anti-miraculist does not deny that the disciples believed that they had seen the risen Lord, but he asserts that they were victims of ‘collective hallucinations’. Anti-miraculists suffer from the collective illusion that a polysyllabic phrase is a satisfactory substitute, both for proof and for explanation (74, with italics added here).

So, was it the risen Lord whom the disciples saw in the flesh, or did they merely imagine that they did?

To begin, circumstances must be abnormal for any normal person to hallucinate, and more so for groups of people. Next, eyewitnesses were slow to acknowledge that it was Jesus whom they had encountered during his post-resurrection appearances. It is a curious thing that Mary Magdalen, for example “saw our Lord and mistook him for the gardener” (75). This happened, as well, when a group of disciples encountered Jesus on their way to Emmaus. The disciples in the Upper Room thought they saw a ghost. In each case, those who were present had to be persuaded that it was, in fact, Jesus who appeared to them. Whatever it was that did the trick for them, it wasn’t some hallucinatory experience. Their initial experiences did not immediately issue in recognition or faint apprehension. For they had no genuine expectation that Jesus would be raised from the dead. “They didn’t run away with their first impressions, and tell unauthenticated stories of a miracle. They examined their first impressions and only by examination learned of their miraculous truth” (75). The disciple Thomas (the “doubter”) sought to preserve the utmost sobriety in consideration of evidence and would not even accept the testimony of his closest peers without firsthand experience.

It is indeed ironical that those who cannot accept the Resurrection of Jesus because it is unique are driven to postulate something no less unique, a ‘collective hallucination’ of a type not paralleled in all the records of human illusion, an illusion which has had an infinitely greater effect on the course of history than any admitted fact. (77)

The Origin of Primitive Belief in the Resurrection of Jesus

The real difficulty for any critic is to make sense of “the origin of a belief so contrary . . . to human experience” and to the expectations of Jesus’ disciples. They would have to have been desperate fanatics to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus before the gaze of those who had crucified their Lord, and to endure physical persecution and martyrdom. Somehow they managed to rock their world with their message, as countless numbers came to believe on the basis of their testimony.

The Empty Tomb

It has always impressed me that, though the tomb of Jesus was well-known to his disciples, there is no evidence of veneration, such as you would expect from family and friends with deep affection for a charismatic leader. As Lunn says, “From the moment that the women return from the Garden the tomb of Jesus passes, historically, into complete oblivion” (The Third Day, 83). If the disciples had not been convinced of the resurrection, they might well have regarded it as a shrine; they would have remained in Jerusalem rather than devote themselves to worldwide proclamation of a gospel they knew to be false.

Lunn examines several anti-miraculist hypotheses meant to explain the empty tomb. He calls these “anti-miraculist” because they are, without exception, motivated by a positive denial of the supernatural:

  1. Jesus did not die on the cross, but recovered in the tomb from which he subsequently escaped.
  2. The women made a mistake and went to the wrong tomb.
  3. The sepulchre in which Jesus was first buried was never intended to be a permanent tomb. Joseph of Arithmathea removed the body and transferred it to another sepulchre.
  4. Strauss’s proposal: It is quite possible that it [the body] was thrown into some dishonourable place with those of other executed criminals, and in this case his disciples may have, at first, had no opportunity of seeing the body. Later, when they preached the Resurrection, even their opponents would have found it difficult to recognise his body and to provide proofs of its identity.
  5. The disciples stole the body from the tomb.

Lunn demonstrates that “a reconstruction of the situation” answers each of these objections and reveals them to be due to an anti-miraculist bias.

Secularism and the Decline of Morality

Lunn had a way with the pen. “If a man be nothing more than first cousin to the chimpanzee, he has no logical ground of complaint if he is put behind bars” (The Third Day, xi; italics are mine). As religion declines, so too does morality decline. Atheism dooms humanity to a denial of what makes human persons human and worthy of moral respect. Even if true, the effect is most unpleasant. I would add that if we are little more than a bundle of nerves and their impulses, operating mechanically in a purely physical and deterministic world, it should come as a a real surprise that we are capable of noticing this “fact” and finding it disturbing.

The “Aesthetics of Argument”

Lunn lamented the Revolt Against Reason (the title of a book published in DATE), manifest not only among notional Christians but also by scientific materialists. He happily owned the accusation that he was a Christian rationalist. Evidence was, for him, the only sure path to responsible belief. Emotionalism and the general neglect of reason exact a costly loss of confidence and a failure of witness.

To counter this trend, Lunn called for what he termed an “aesthetic of argument.” He says, in the introduction to his book that details the case for the resurrection, that his aim is to convert the unconverted. He was converted under the pressure of evidence, and ever after it was his lifelong ambition to assist others along that path. He was convinced that public debate, especially at universities, was a valuable investment in this cause. For it ensured that more would attend to the arguments out of curiosity about the outcome of a debate than they would at a church-sponsored meeting.

This has been my experience, too.

* * *

For any young person who aspires to the work of an apologist, I cannot recommend enough a close study of the life and work of Arnold Lunn. One could do with more admirable leaders in this field of Christian theology and practice.

Notes:

  1. There is a brief interesting review of the Lunn-Joad correspondence in here.
  2. C. E. M. Joad, a vociferous critic of Christianity, later converted to Christianity, and subsequently was, in his own way, a defender of the faith. See The Recovery of Belief (1952).
  3. There is an inspiring brief biography, written by Bernard O’Connor, Archibishop of Melbourne. Here’s the link to my own marked copy.
  4. A review of Lunn’s book The Third Day is to be found in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 35.137 (March 1946): 118-21.
  5. Science and the Supernatural, a compilation of the letters between Lunn and Haldane, is available online here.

◊ ◊ ◊

Other posts in this series . . .

Justin Martyr—Apologist for Today


Justin Martyr Stained GlassToday is the Feast Day for Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 AD), considered by many to be the first great apologist of the Christian church. The apostle Paul is surely a better candidate for that distinction. But Paul was an inspired author of Scripture. This is not true of any of the other great Christian apologists. And Justin apparently was the first of these. Certainly, he is the first whose writings have survived and are available in English translation.

Justin is mentioned with admiration by many of the ancients. Tatian, his pupil (according to Irenaeus), was fond of Justin. We learn from Tertullian that he was martyred for his advocacy for Christianity. Eusebius of Caesarea, the first church historian, who was himself an apologist, has much to say about Justin.

We have an account of Justin’s conversion in chapters 7 and 8 of his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. What he recounts sounds like the story of a stranger’s witness to the truth of Christianity by various evidences and the stranger’s persuasion of an open-minded philosopher—namely, Justin—by these evidences. With the word of the stranger’s testimony, says Justin, “my spirit was immediately set on fire.”

Justin’s meditations, in addition to further study, led him to conclude that Christ had revealed “the only sure and useful philosophy.” Though the authenticity of this account is uncertain, Justin’s zeal for Christ and perseverance in defense of the faith are incontestable. Chapter 2 in the Second Apology reflects a debt to the faithful testimony of other Christians in his movement from Platonism to Christian belief (see also Second Apology, chapter 12).

His chief works in Christian apologetics include Dialogue with Trypho the Jew; First Apology; and, Second Apology. There is much that is admirable and worthy of fresh consideration in all of his writings. As to the first, the following understatement, from The Oxford Classical Dictionary, very nearly says it all: “He seems never to have been attracted to Judaism.”

Here are a few nuggets from Justin’s First Apology:

Criteria for Rational Belief

Early in his First Apology, Justin set forth a controlling principle, which we today might call a basic intellectual virtue.

Reason dictates that those who are truly pious and philosophical should honor and love only the truth, declining to follow  opinions of the ancients, if they are worthless” (chapter 2).

He invited scrutiny of the evidence and did not expect an irrationalist response to Christian preaching. And he urged his audience to weigh the evidence and resist any temptation to accept what is less reasonable because it is more palatable.

The Possibility of Resurrection

David L. Edwards relates that “as a young man he [Justin] had been a Platonist, until he had ceased to believe that souls could, if they tried hard enough, remember their pure life before birth.” This belief gave way to Christian hope in a future resurrection. For anyone who thinks it laughable that a dead body, dissolved into its constituents and diffused into the earth, might be raised physically from the dead, Justin makes an interesting observation. He asks them to imagine that they had no knowledge of the means of procreation, and to consider how they would react if they were shown both human seed and a picture of a mature human person, and then were told that from such a seed the man was produced. This would exceed anyone’s capacity to believe. And yet it would be true. As it is by the power of God that this thing comes to pass, so it is no less possible that God clothes the soul again in the future with the same body of the person who has died. He then recites Matthew 19:26 and Matthew 10:28. (See chapter 19.)

Common Ground in Reasoning with Nonbelievers

Justin also took pains to seek common ground with nonbelievers in his proclamation of Christian doctrine. The details of his method cannot be developed here. But students of Justin have examined his appeal to ancient philosophers (e.g., Socrates and Plato) in drawing out the truth of Christian belief. He held that many vital elements of God’s truth—shown forth more fully and in greater glory through the Old Testament prophets, Jesus Christ, and the New Testament writers—are latent in ancient pagan philosophers.

This point served at least two purposes. First, it pointed to the incompleteness of secular philosophies; second, it suggested such a connection with the complete truth realized in Christ that this would count in support of the Christian philosophy. (See chapters 20-23). Still, whereas “we say things similar to what the Greeks say, we only are hated on account of the name of Christ” (chapter 24). Christ’s philosophy goes beyond the classic creeds of the pagans, and this is a point of resistance for many.

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

I find especially interesting a passage in chapter 28. Speaking of God’s delay in bringing final judgment on on Satan and his minions, Justin writes:

For the reason why God has delayed to do this is His regard for the human race; for He foreknows that some are to be saved by repentance, and perhaps some not yet born. In the beginning He made the human race with the power of thought and of choosing the truth and of acting rightly, so that all people are without excuse before God; for they have been born capable of exercising reason and intelligence.

Observe, first, Justin’s doctrine of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. He is not altogether explicit here, but he intimates that God knows in advance what men and women, including perhaps those who do not yet exist, will freely do when presented with the opportunity to repent. His mention of those who have not yet been born invites curiosity about how he might regard the Molinist doctrine of divine middle knowledge. Second, he stresses the accountability of men and women for believing what is true, on the grounds that they are created with the capacity for “exercising reason and intelligence.”

Fulfilled Prophecy

Justin put much stock in the evidence of fulfilled prophecy to support the Christian verdict about Jesus Christ. He lists many prophecies of the Hebrew prophets and reasons that they are fulfilled in Jesus. He notes that the work of Christ was predicted even by Moses (see Gen. 49:11). He appeals to Isaiah 7:14 as a foretelling of the virgin birth of Christ (see Luke 1:32 and Matt. 1:21), and to Micah 5:2 regarding the place where Christ, as Messiah, would be born. He sees in Jesus fulfillment of such  prophecies as we find in Isaiah 52:2, 58:2, Psalm 22:16, and Zechariah 9:9-10. (See chapters 30-53.)

This method in Christian apologetics is nothing new. Justin even addresses the objection that the alleged fulfillment of prophecy is evidence for fatalism (see chapters 43 and 44; see also Second Apology, chapter 7). And he mounts an inductive argument, from the fulfillment of past prophecies to the reasonable expectation that those that remain will also be fulfilled. This claim serves both as a confirmation of Christianity and as a warning not to neglect the philosophy of Christ. (See chapter 52.) Justin even rebuts the objection that the Christian doctrine of salvation is compromised, since those who, living before Christ, could not have obeyed Christ for salvation (see chapter 47).

The Second Apology

If the First Apology is a more general treatise in apologetics, the much shorter Second Apology addresses more practical concerns due to the experience of Christians under pagan persecution. He touches on the problem of divine wisdom in the permission of suffering. He includes a note about why persecuted Christians do not commit suicide (chapter 4).

Extensive Source List for the Study of Justin Martyr

  • L. W. Barnard, Justin Martyr: His Life and Thought (1967)
  • L. W. Barnard, “Justin Martyr in Recent Study,” Scottish Journal of Theology 22 (1969): 152-64
  • L. W. Barnard, Justin Martyr: The First and Second Apologies (Engl. trans.) (1997)
  • L. W. Barnard, “The Logis Theology of Justin Martyr,” Downside Review 89 (1971): 132-41
  • A. Bellinzoni, The Sayings of Jesus in the Writings of St. Justin Martyr (1967)
  • R. M. Berchman, From Philo to Origen: Middle Platonism in Transition (1984)
  • A. Bery, Saint Justin: Sa vie et sa doctrine (1911)
  • A. W. F. Blunt, The Apologies of Justin Martyr (1911)
  • L. R. Bush, Classical Readings in Christian Apologetics: A.D. 100-1800 (1983), 1-29
  • H. Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and Classical Tradition (1966)
  • H. Chadwick, “Justin Martyr’s Defense of Christianity,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 47 (1965): 275-97
  • F. H. Colson, “Notes on Justin Martyr, Apology,” Journal of Theological Studies 23 (1922): 161-71
  • F. L. Cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
  • J. Daniélou, Message évangelique et culture héllénstique (Eng. trans. 1973)
  • I. J. Davidson, The Birth of the Church: From Jesus to Constantine (2004)
  • A. J. Droge, “Justin Martyr and the Restoration of Philosophy,” Church History 56 (1987): 303-319
  • D. L. Edwards, Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years (1997)
  • M. J. Edwards, “On the Platonic Schooling of Justin Martyr,” Journal of Theological Studies 42 (1991): 17-34
  • A. A. T. Ehrhardt, “Justin Martyr’s Two Apologies,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 4 (1953): 1-16
  • M. S. Enslin, “Justin Martyr: An Appreciation,” Jewish Quarterly Review 34 (1944): 179-205
  • S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (2003)
  • N. L. Geisler, “Justin Martyr,” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (2006), 395-97
  • B. L. Gildersleeve, The Apologies of Justin Martyr (1877)
  • E. R. Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr (1923, 1968)
  • R. M. Grant, “Aristotle and the Conversion of Justin,” Journal of Theological Studies 7 (1956): 246-48
  • R. M. Grant, Greek Apologists of the Second Century (1988)
  • R. M. Grant, “A Woman from Rome: Justin Apol. 2.2,” Church History (1985): 461-72
  • A. Harnack, Judentum und Judenchristentum in Justinus’ Dialog mit Trypho, Texte und Untersuchungen 39 (1913)
  • H. S. Holland, “Justinus Martyr, St.,” in Dictionary of Christian Biography 3:560-87 (1882)
  • R. Holte, “Logos spermatikos: Christianity and Ancient Philosophy According to St. Justin’s Apologies,” Studia Theologica 12 (1958): 109-168
  • Justin Martyr, “Apologia,” in The Anti-Nicene Fathers, edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, volume 1
  • Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (various editions)
  • Justin Martyr, First Apology (various editions)
  • Justin Martyr, Second Apology (various editions)
  • Justin Martyr, “Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection,” in The Anti-Nicene Fathers, edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, volume 1
  • P. Keresztes, “The Emperor Antoninus Pius and the Christians, Journal of Ecclesiastical History (1971): 1-18
  • P. Keresztes,”The Literary Genre of Justin’s First Apology,” Vigilae Christianae 19 (1965): 99-110
  • P. Keresztes,”The ‘so-called’ Second Apology of Justin,” Latomus 24 (1965): 858-69
  • M. J. Langrange, Saint Justin, Martyr (1914)
  • C. C. Martindale, Justin Martyr (1921)
  • H. Musurilla, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (1972)
  • E. F. Osborn, Justin Martyr (1973)
  • G. T. Purves, The Testimony of Justin Martyr to Early Christianity (1988)
  • J. S. Romanides, “Justin Martyr and the Fourth Gospel,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 4 (1958-1959)
  • W. A. Shotwell, The Biblical Exegesis of Justin Martyr (1965)
  • O. Sarksaune, “The Conversion of Justin Martyr,” Studia Theologica 30 (1976): 53-73)
  • O. Sarksaune,The Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition (1987)
  • C. I. K. Story, The Nature of Truth in the Gospel of Truth in the Writings of Justin Martyr (1971)
  • D. Trakatellis, The Pre-Existence of Christ in the Writings of Justin Martyr (1976)
  • C. J. de Vogel, “Problems Concerning Justin Martyr,” Menemosyne 31 (1978): 360-88
  • J. C. van Windon, An Early Christian Philosophy: Trypho 1-9 (1971)
  • C. M. Watts, “The Humanity of Jesus in Justin Martyr’s Soteriology,” Evangelical Quarterly 56 (1984): 21-33
  • P. R. Weis, “Some Samaritanisms of Justin Martyr,” Journal of Theological Studies 45 (1944): 199-205
  • D. F. Wright, “Christian Faith in the Greek World: Justin Martyr’s Testimony,” Evangelical Quarterly 54 (1982): 77-87
  • J. E. Wynne-Morgan, “The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience in Justin Martyr,” Vigilae Christianae 38 (1984): 172-77

◊ ◊ ◊

Other posts in this series . . .

The Great Dane—Remembering Kierkegaard


Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Today is Søren Kierkegaard’s birthday. He was born May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, Denmark. He’s been called a Christian existentialist, a fideist, a satirist, and “the melancholy Dane.” He was concerned about the disconnect between Christian profession and the lived reality of true Christianity. He called his contemporaries to a deeper personal encounter with God. And he wrote with penetrating insight about the failure of the purely aesthetic life—what we today might call secularism—which seeks pleasure without discerning its natural and ultimate end, namely, despair. Kiekegaard’s contribution is considerable, even for the evidentialist. In fact, his sermonic style may be of value to the apologist who insists on the value of evidence. E. J. Carnell, mid-twentieth century, did the most to bring Kierkegaard’s insight into an overall “combinationalist” approach to apologetics. Carnell wrote:

There can be no question that Søren Kierkegaard gave a profoundly convincing defense of the third locus of truth.

Carnell was speaking of a “third way of knowing,” which respects the tendencies of the human heart, properly submitted to God, to discern religious truth. In this, Kierkegaard (and Carnell) were like Blaise Pascal, who spoke of “reasons of the heart which reason cannot know.” Carnell’s commentary on Kierkegaard continues:

What Christianity has always assumed, Kierkegaard made explicit. . . . Saving faith is not simply an intellectual assent to objective facts. Faith is cordial trust; it is a concerned, inward response to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Until the end of time, therefore, men who remember what it means to be a person will defend the supremacy of truth as inwardness. God sent His Son to make us good, not simply to make it possible for us to recite the creeds of the church.

Carnell is saying that few apologists have noted this vital aspect of Christian belief and conduct. But he issues a caveat:

But what must be questioned is the prudence of Kiekegaard’s attempt to secure inward truth by opposing it to objective evidences. It is from his lips, not those of the biblical writers, one learns that faith must believe what understanding finds contradictory—and for that very reason. Scripture’s healthy balance of the loci of truth has been upset by Kierkegaard. Rationality was bequethed by Jesus Christ as a light by which men may penetrate the darkness of error. ‘The true light that enlightens [gives a spiritually rational nature to] every man was coming into this world’ (John 1:9). Being a rational creature, thus, man must proportion his spiritual commitments to what the mind can conscientiously clear. Apart from this distribution of authority edification is impossible. . . . Saving faith germinates only after the mind is first convinced of the sufficiency of the evidences. If Christ taught plain logical nonsense . . . a balanced man would turn aside from Him as one to be pitied, not trusted. The reason why we are able to trust Christ is that He spoke and lived in a way which is congenial with our axiological expectations.

For Carnell, our “axiological expectations” include both what is existentially compelling and what is rationally convincing. “Faith” without the soul’s commitment may not be faith at all. But what is faith if it is not grounded in good reason? For anyone can have faith in anything.

◊ ◊ ◊

Other posts in this series . . .

%d bloggers like this: