I Am Justin Martyr (ca. 100 – ca. 165)
By Neal E. Snider
-- If I tell you that I was an apologist for the Christian faith you may get the wrong idea, but I was one. The word “apology” means something different in your day than it did in mine. When you apologize you express regret, but the word “apology” comes from the Greek word apologia which means “defense.” My apology for Christianity was a defense of Christianity.
As a young man I was a pagan, born to pagan parents. I loved education and pursued the paths of several different philosophies. Eventually I became quite committed to the philosophy of Plato.
One day while walking in Ephesus (in Turkey in your day) an old man whom I had never seen before, nor ever saw again, fell in step with me. In our conversation this man showed me the weakness of the Platonic system. I was not converted on the spot but I was set to thinking. That drove me back to the Hebrew prophets. Through reading the prophets and witnessing the serenity with which Christians faced martyrdom I became a convert around 130.
My conversion did not change my mode of life; I remained a philosopher, but now I was a Christian philosopher – perhaps the first well known Christian philosopher.
Certainly, the Christian faith is not merely a philosophical theory or system, but there is an intellectual dimension the faith, a coherence that can and must be defended against all competing philosophies.
In my day there were two forces that opposed the Christian faith: the Jewish religion that did not see continuity with and fulfillment of the Old Testament in the coming of Jesus the Christ, and the pagan Roman state that required ultimate allegiance. Loyalty to the State was demonstrated by a very simple sacrifice to the Emperor which amounted to no more than placing a pinch of incense on an altar dedicated to the Emperor.
I wrote a defense of Christianity over against both Judaism and the Roman State. In my Dialogue with Trypho the Jew I showed the continuity of Jesus with the whole Old Testament, beginning with Moses. I wrote two Apologies to the Roman Senate asking that the same tolerance be given Christians as to all the philosophies. I claimed that Christians are loyal to the Empire, but conditionally. Ultimate loyalty is to Jesus Christ our Lord.
My arguments were to reason, never to miracles. I said that Christians believe in miracles because they believe in Jesus; they do not believe in Jesus because he performed miracles..
Apparently my arguments with the Roman Senate were not very persuasive. Like others before and after me I gave my life because I refused to sacrifice to the Emperor (State).
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Rev. Neal Snider is the only chaplain in the history of the United States to have held a commission as a chaplain in all of the military services: Air Force, Army, and Navy (Marines, Coast Guard, and Seabees are served by Navy chaplains). Snider holds a Master of Divinity degree from Augsburg Theological Seminary (1960) and a Master of Theology degree from Luther Theological Seminary (1984). He has served as a pastor in Montana, Washington, and Oregon.
© 2011 Neal Snider. Used with permission.
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