Sunday, February 21, 2010

Justin Martyr on the Soul

Greetings all!

Someone has written to me as follows:

"I reached the conviction Justyn [sic] believed in a anthropological concept constituted by three elements:

- body
- soul
- spirit

The first two are subjected to the death.

Could you please tell me if my vision of this matter can be considered wrong? If so, why?"

I reply:

First, I would say that when one reads Justin's Dialogue, he or she must distinguish between the words of Justin, those of Trypho and those of the man who helped to convert Justin to Christianity. Second, as I read Justin, he does seem to espouse a tripartite anthropological theologia. However, he clearly appears to argue that the soul is able to survive death and subsist for all eternity.

In 1 Apology 20, Justin contends that Christians in his day affirmed that "the souls of the wicked, being endowed with sensation even after death, are punished, and that those [souls] of the good being delivered from punishment spend a blessed existence" in eternity.

Also, in 1 Apology 44, we read:

"And whatever both philosophers and poets have said concerning the immortality of the soul, or punishments after death, or contemplation of things heavenly, or doctrines of the like kind, they have received such suggestions from the prophets as have enabled them to understand and interpret these things. And hence there seem to be seeds of truth among all men; but they are charged with not accurately understanding [the truth] when they assert contradictories."

In the Dialogue with Trypho, Justin does indicate that he rejected the Platonic immortality of the soul doctrine, as did Tatian. Nevertheless, there seems to be no doubt that he thought the soul survives the death of the body.

Finally, in the Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection 10, there is this fateful passage:

"The resurrection is a resurrection of the flesh which died. For the spirit dies not; the soul is in the body, and without a soul it cannot live. The body, when the soul forsakes it, is not. For the body is the house of the soul; and the soul the house of the spirit. These three, in all those who cherish a sincere hope and unquestioning faith in God, will be saved."

Best regards,

Professor Edgar Foster


Gary said...

Justin Martyr makes known in his First Apology, at Chapter 21:

"And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter."

In making claims regarding Christ's virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven, Justin is saying nothing different than what the Romans had maintained of their gods.

The vast bulk of the Jews rejected the notion of Jesus being god incarnate and all the attendant mythological paraphernalia...right to this very day.

The stories of a Virgin Birth and a Resurrection, which appear in four anonymous late first century Christian works of literature, are based on Roman mythology, folks. Let's just accept the obvious: The Gospel stories are myths. Even one of the earliest Church Fathers admits it.

Edgar Foster said...


Justin appears to be making a comparison between Christ and the popular deities of Graeco-Roman mythology. But, it's just an anlogy, in order to make a point.

Basil Gildersleeve points out that some of the pre-Nicenes reasoned this way, although the manner of argumentation seems to offend modern sensibilities. I'm not endorsing Marty's approach, but just trying to explain why he possibly did it. He was composing an apology.

See Tertullian's "Apology" (21) which might shed light on Justin's strategy. Neither the Martyr nor Tertullian believe the Gospels are mythical. That is simply not correct.

Edgar Foster said...

"Marty's approach" should be "the Martyr's approach"

Eyes playing tricks on me.

Gary said...

I do not believe that Justin believed the stories of Jesus to be myths. But I do think what he was saying is this:

"Hey, we Christians aren't some new cult of weirdos. Look at how similar our supernatural claims about our God and his son are to your Roman claims about your god Jupiter and his sons."

The question is: why are the Christian supernatural stories so similar to those of the Romans that Justin would make this comparison?

Edgar Foster said...

Justin and a few other apologists of the early church made this kind of argument. However, it has not been widely used by the church (or Christianity) at all.

It's difficult to pick one or a few men who profess to be Christians, and then make a sweeping generalization based on those few examples. Besides, even the Martyr was carrying out a strategy as you appear to suggest in your last post. He's doing apologetics.

Most who profess to follow Christ and worship his Father would not agree that the similarities are that great. Arnobius of Sicca actually contends that the Graeco-Roman deities are not like God or his Son, Jesus Christ. Read his work "Adversus nationes." Tatian the Assyrian also critizes the Greeks in his "Oratio."

Gary said...

Well, Justin saw similarities, and many secular scholars and lay readers of the internet see similarities.

There is a saying, "In Greco-Roman culture, you weren't anybody unless you had been born of a virgin."

Jesus may well have lived and died in first century Roman Palestine, but the rest of the stories about him, including his alleged virgin birth, resurrection from the dead, and his levitation into outer space from a mountain, are simply plagiarisms of Greek and Roman mythology.

It's time to add the Christian supernatural tall tales to the long list of fascinating but false ancient mythologies.

Edgar Foster said...

I'm not saying that one can't point to certain similarities in Greece/Rome and world myths as a whole. However, the differences seem greater than the similarities to me and there are early writers who reason that way too.

Equating Jesus' virgin birth with Greek/Roman myths is (with all due respect) simplisitic. N.T. Wright also supplies plenty of evidence in his book on Jesus' resurrection that indicates it was distinctive, not simply a tale that was retold.

Furthermore, if the good news of Christ was simply the repetition of an old tale, then why did Paul write that both Jews and Greek generally rejected his message? See 1 Cor 1:18ff.

If you take the time to read other pre-Nicenes, it might give you food for thought. Lactantius--author of the "Divine Institutes" is another good author to read on this subject. He shows that there's a clear difference between God the Father and Jupiter.

Gary said...

I'm not saying that the Christian supernatural claims about Jesus were direct copies of specific Greek and Roman mythologies, just that they can easily be placed in the same genre.

I read NT Wright's 800+ work, "The Resurrection of the Son of God", and he makes big deal about his belief that no first century pagan or Jew would have bought the story of a resurrected god. I don't buy that claim.

I believe that the Jesus supernatural stories were new, but not unique, at least for non-Jews in Greco-Roman culture. I don't think it is too much of a stretch from the claims about Romulus to the claims about Jesus.

I do agree that they were wildly new claims for Jews...and that is why Jews then and now overwhelmingly reject those claims. Jews don't reject the messianic claims about Jesus because they are "hard hearted", they do so because they reject inserting Greco-Roman mythology into their religion.

Edgar Foster said...

Well, I often find that when most critics try to draw parallels between Jesus and Graeco-Roman myths (etc), they lack specific examples from the actual Greek/Roman works themselves. Besides, similarities don't necessarily mean that one group/culture borrowed from another.

I'm not a Trinitarian like Wright, but I would suggest that his big book does make a good case for separating Jesus Christ from these other case examples.

Paul writes that even the Greeks had a problem with the message about Christ (it was a scandal or stumbling block), and we know the Romans also generally despised Christians.

"but we preach Christ crucified, {Gr. Stauroo – hung on a stake}, unto the Jews a stumblingblock and unto the Gentiles foolishness" (1 Cor 1:23, Jubilee Bible)

As for the early Christian view of myths:

"For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16, KJV).

Edgar Foster said...

A little more from Justin Martyr, which shows that he put some distance between the account of Christ and the Greek/Roman gods:

"But lest some, not understanding the prophecy now cited [Isa 7:14], should charge us with the very things we have been laying to the charge of the poets
who say that Jupiter went in to women through lust, let us try to explain the words. This, then, 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive,' signifies that a virgin
should conceive without intercourse. For if she had
had intercourse with any one whatever, she was no longer a virgin; but the power of God having come upon the virgin, overshadowed her, and caused her while yet a virgin to conceive. And the angel of God who was
sent to the same virgin at that time brought her good news, saying, 'Behold, thou shalt conceive of the Holy Ghost, and shalt bear a Son, and He shall be called the Son of the Highest, and thou shalt call His name
Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins,'--as they who have recorded all that concerns our Saviour Jesus Christ have taught, whom we believed, since by Isaiah also, whom we have now adduced, the Spirit of prophecy declared that He
should be born as we intimated before. It is wrong, therefore, to understand the Spirit and the power of God as anything else than the Word, who is also the
first-born of God, as the foresaid prophet Moses declared; and it was this which, when it came upon the virgin and overshadowed her, caused her to conceive, not by intercourse, but by power" (1 Apology 33).

Gary said...

Dead men do not walk out of their graves with new, superman-like bodies that walk through lock doors and teleport between cities, nor do they levitate in front of their friends into outer space.

These are myths and legends, friend. Myths and legends. Nothing more.

Edgar Foster said...


Dead men can't do those things on their own. But nothing prevents Almighty God from raising someone from the dead, and giving that person a new body which is superior to the old corpus.

I also respectfully disagree with your portrayal of Jesus' Ascension as levitation. There is much about that event that we do not understand; however, Paul reports that Christ became a "life-giving spirit," unlike the first Adam who became a living soul. In what sense was the second Adam (Christ) a life-giving (quickening) spirit? At the very least, those words have to mean that the Apostle thought something momentous happened to the Lord.

Finally, the early Christians disparaged mythoi: the NT consistently uses the Greek word mythos in a pejorative sense. See also 1 Cor 15:1ff for evidence of the resurrection of Christ.

Gary said...

The same man who snickered at Greek and Roman mythology had a conversation with a bright light on a remote highway, and, told all who would listen that he had experienced an intergalactic space trip to a "third" heaven.

I personally believe that Paul was mentally ill. No wonder all the churches in Asia Minor ended up rejecting him as an apostle.

Edgar Foster said...

Okay, sir, you have now committed numerous logical fallacies. Nonetheless, I don't want this discussion to become disrespectful or to become insulting for either one of us. Please don't take my comment as an insult, but I think you are engaging in ad hominem and sallying forth speculative hypotheses.

I never said that Paul snickered at Greek/Roman mythology: the NT writers just use the word "myth" in a pejorative sense and only pejoratively. They insist that what they speak concerning Christ is not based on tales or myths. For Luke, what happened in the life of Christ is historical, and he wants to relate the account accurately. Furthermore, there is nothing causally or logically impossible about someone being taken (figuratively) to the third heaven--it was not a literal journey. See Revelation 4:1-11 where John has a similar experience, but makes it clear that the experience is visionary.

May I ask how you know all of the churches in Asia Minor rejected Paul as an apostle? Thank you.

Gary said...

2 Timothy 1:15

You are aware that all who are in Asia have turned away from me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.

Edgar Foster said...

The verse must be read in context, and according to its syntax:

Οἶδας τοῦτο ὅτι ἀπεστράφησάν με πάντες οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ, ὧν ἐστὶν Φύγελος καὶ Ἑρμογένης. (WH Text)

The use of "all" in this verse is a relative, not an absolute use of πάντες.

"May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains" (2 Timothy 1:16 Holman Bible).

Where did Onesiphorus live? Likely in Asia Minor.

Ellicott makes this observation too:

The geographical term Asia is rather vague. It may—and indeed, strictly speaking, does—include Mysia, Phrygia, Lydia, Caria; but such a wide-spread defection from Pauline teaching seems improbable, and there is no tradition that anything of the kind ever took place. St. Paul probably wrote the term more in the old Homeric sense, and meant the district in the neighbourhood of the river Cayster;

“In Asian meadow by Cayster’s streams.”

—Iliad ii. 461.


Gary said...

Maybe. Maybe not.

How many of the other apostles felt the need to continually defend themselves against being a liar? Paul repeatedly denied being a liar. When someone frequently tells me, "Hey, I'm not a liar"...they are usually a liar.

By what authority did Paul declare himself an "apostle"? Do we have any evidence of the original Twelve referring to Paul as "apostle"? At the Council of Jerusalem Paul was simply referred to as "a brother". And why would Jesus spend three years training twelve men to preach his gospel, but once he dies, he comes back to give a Pharisee the principle job of converting the world to his teachings??

Very suspicious.

Paul himself says that he did not receive any of his teachings from the apostles, but by internal, personal revelation.

Hmmm. Private revelation. Never referred to as an apostle by anyone but himself. Repeatedly accused of lying. Repeatedly denying he is a liar. And a statement that "all" in Asia have rejected him.

In the Book of Revelation, the church in Ephesus is praised for rejecting...false teachers? No. False prophets? No. The church in Ephesus is praised for rejecting "false apostles". This confirms to me that when Paul said that "all Asia" had rejected him, this statement included the church in Ephesus.

I think Paul was very dedicated to his cause of spreading HIS message. Have you ever compared Jesus teachings to Paul's? Very different. Paul talks more about himself than he does about Jesus, Jesus' teachings, Jesus' sermons, Jesus' parables, or Jesus' miracles. Paul uses the personal pronouns to refer to himself more often than all the other Bible authors combined!

Paul was intensely dedicated to his teachings...but I believe, he was either mentally ill or a liar.

Edgar Foster said...

The defense that Paul made in some circumstances when insisting that he was an apostle must be read in context. In Corinth, there were false apostles who tried to defame Paul. He found other troubles in Galatia with men known as Judaizers. He was concerned about the claims of these men because of how such aspersions could affect the ecclesiae that Paul had established through God's spirit (2 Cor 11:1ff). He was not defending himself in the abstract.

Paul reveals the source of his authority in Galatians 1:1. Not only was he a former Pharisee, but he also tried to destroy the ecclesia Christi. He wrote how his appointment thereby demonstrated the charis of God. See 1 Timothy 1:12-16.

Where did he say that "none" of his teachings came from others?

And look who accused him of lying. It wasn't the other apostles.

I don't see how you conclude from Revelation 2:2 that Ephesus ultimately rejected Paul. It speaks of "apostles" (plural) who were tested, but found to be inauthentic. Besides having nothing to do with the grammar or context, there's no historical record that Paul ever suffered this kind of wholesale rejection. Furthermore, Peter spoke of him as "our beloved brother." He also wrote:

"And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you" (2 Peter 3:15 KJV)

"according to the [divine] wisdom given unto him"

Gary said...

Second Peter was not accepted into the canon until almost the fifth century because there were so many doubts about its authorship.

Modern scholars (except for fundamentalists) agree: it is a forgery.

Edgar Foster said...

1 Clement 23 possibly alludes to/quotes 2 Peter 3.

It's possible that Jude quotes from 2 Peter, and even before Origen of Alexandria, the church fathers quoted 2 Peter (as shown by Michael J. Kruger).

In 367 CE, Athanasius writes:

"Again, it is not tedious to speak of the books of the New Testament. These are: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. After these, The Acts of the Apostles, and the seven epistles called Catholic: of James, one; of Peter, two, of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, written in this order: the first, to the Romans; then, two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians, then, to the Philippians; then, to the Colossians; after these, two of the Thessalonians; and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John."

Gary said...

You are following an ancient superstition, friend. Open your eyes.