Born in Palestine to Greek Parents early in the second century, Justin was a “philosopher” par excellence in that he loved searching for truth. After studying with a stoic teacher, Justin shifted his allegiance to an Aristotelian in order to give more attention to theology, but ended that association when, after just a few days, the teacher pressed him for a fee. He then turned to a devotee of Pythagoras, but that went south when he Justin learned that he would have to first study music, astronomy, and geometry before getting to philosophy. This pattern continued, including a significant season of Platonism, until one day, while sitting by the sea, Justin encountered a man who pointed him to the Hebrew Scriptures and to Christ. This illumination coupled with Justin’s observation of the courage with which Christians of his day faced martyrdom, finally led to his understanding of the gospel and his conversion.
Looking back upon his life of philosophical inquiry, Justin concluded that God had called him to be a philosopher for Christ. From that day forth he wore the distinctive philosopher’s cloak. He was a Greek who recognized Christianity as the fulfillment of all that was true of philosophy, especially in Platonism.
There are only three (complete) works of Justin’s that survive:
- Dialogue with Trypho: A protracted debate with a Jew named Trypho from Ephesus (perhaps the place in which Justin was converted) describing the veracity of Christianity. It is in this work that Justin describes his conversion.
- I Apology: A defense of the Christian faith to the Roman Emperor.
- II Apology: A shorter version addressed to the Roman Senate intended to augment his first Apology.
Justin spent his final years in the city of Rome, where he taught. In the mid 160’s he was arrested and put on trial for claiming allegiance to Christ. When told to renounce his faith by offering sacrifice to the gods, he refused, and, much like Polycarp and other faithful martyrs, went to his death confessing his Christian faith.
Throughout his life, Justin aligned himself with Socrates who resembled Christians in his rejection of pagan gods for the sake of truth. Nevertheless, Justin was clear that, despite the virtues of the great philosopher, Jesus Christ is supreme. In his words:
“For no one trusted in Socrates, so as to die for this doctrine. But in Christ… not only have philosophers and scholars believed, but also artisans and entirely uneducated people have despised glory, fear and death.
By the way, is it just me, or does Phil Vischer, the founder of Veggie Tales, bear a slight resemblance to Justin Martyr?