Question: "Who was Justin Martyr?"
Answer: Justin (approximately AD 100–165) was a Christian teacher, writer, and ultimately a martyr. He was a native of Samaria who moved to Ephesus to study philosophy in his search for truth. Justin was impressed with the character of Christians who were martyred for their faith. One day while walking and thinking, he met an old man who challenged his thinking and shared the gospel with him. Justin became a believer.
Justin viewed Christianity through the lens of philosophy. He saw Christianity as philosophy corrected and perfected—the true philosophy. He moved to Rome where he became a teacher and writer. As was the custom of the day, and since public preaching had become dangerous, Justin held private lectures for those who were interested in learning of the faith. He is known today for his writings. There are three writings that are attributed to him, although many scholars doubt the authenticity of one of them (Second Apologies).
Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho is a discussion with a Jew regarding the superiority of Christ and Christianity. Trypho presents objections, and Justin answers them. (Some identify Trypho as a historical rabbi, and others believe that Trypho is a fictional character and that Justin simply used the dialogue as a literary device.) Trypho objects that Christians worship a man. Justin demonstrates that the Jewish Scriptures speak of Christ. Justin defends the Incarnation and presents the idea that the Church is True People of God and that the Old Covenant is passing away. In his Dialogue Justin gives us valuable insight into the way early Christians interpreted the Old Testament.
Justin Martyr’s First Apologies (or simply Apologies) is addressed to the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius. It presents Christian truth within the context of current Greek thought. Justin emphasizes that Jesus is the logos incarnate (see John 1:1), since logos was a commonly understood Greek philosophical concept. Justin believed that any person who lived in accordance with the logos was a Christian whether that person knew it or not. Socrates was thus a “Christian” before Christ, in much the same way that Abraham was. Apologies was provoked by persecution of Christians and attempted to clear away popular misconceptions about Christianity.
From Justin Martyr’s writings we get early descriptions of Christian worship services and the Eucharist. We see that the Jewish trappings of Christianity were falling away. We also see that Justin opposed the early heresies of Gnosticism, Doceticism and Marcionism.
In 165, Justin and some of his followers were arrested for their faith. In answer to threats of death, Justin is reported to have said, “If we are punished for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hope to be saved.” He was beheaded under the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, son of Antonius Pius, and he later became known as Justin Martyr.