Justin (Martyr). The First Apology of Justin. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2004
Written and delivered to the Roman emperor in the early second century, Justin’s First Apology is an excellent introduction to Christianity for any age. While touted as a plea for the end of the unjust persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, the retelling of the gospel drenches the work from beginning to end. Justin obviously lived and breathed the Biblical World; in other words, the Bible defined his reality through his radical personal relationship with Jesus. Also, this work was his personal appeal to the Emperor and his philosophically-minded family to also find this relationship. Thus, Justin’s apology is an intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and very personal, positive defense of the Christian faith.
First, though Justin argues extensively that the Roman cult is the work of demons in expelling a forceful smoke screen over the truth of the gospel (7, 10, 17, 36–7, 38–9, 41–2, 43), he also identifies the positive contributions of pagan philosophy and mythology (39–40). Still, the bulk of his argument centers on Jesus as fulfillment of divine prophecy, of his death, resurrection, ascension and return. In other words, as an example for contextualization, Justin’s appropriation of pagan philosophy and mythology, to the small degree he has shown, was a means to an end. Therefore, through Justin’s example, the point of contextualization is primarily to bring another person into a relationship with Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible. The primary purpose of contextualization is not the appropriate culture or religion outside the Bible.
Second, note that Justin appealed to the men in his day whom had the most authority to change the attitude of Roman law towards Christians. He certainly made bold statements to them (i.e. 9, 37), but his overall attitude exhibited great humility. He made no demands, only impassioned pleas. Ultimately, he recognized and deferred to the authority of Caesar. The history of Western missions has not been so kind. When persecution breaks out, they do not make pleas to those who by their authority could enact change, rather they appeal to their own more powerful government or to NGOs to coercively intervene. How many obstacles to the gospel does this create? Justin was removing barriers, not creating them. Certainly opposition to Christianity has to some degree a spiritual foundation, as Justin so aptly identified, but how does political intervention aid these situations? The gospel will change the day, not force! May God raise up more Justin’s in the world!
Finally, this version concludes with a letter from Marcus Aurelius, successor to the Emperor Titus Aelius to whom this Apology was written. In this letter, the Marcus Aurelius expresses his respect for the prayers of Christians. He recognized their devotion to God and to Rome (though certainly not to the Roman cult). This peaceful and loving attitude of the Christians exemplified the character of which Justin humbly boasts to Emperor Titus Aelius (6, 9, etc). Missionaries do well to encourage their converts likewise to seek the peace of their people and to pray for their physical as well as spiritual needs. Christian love and compassion are symbiotically related to the proclamation of the gospel. Neither can live long without the other.
Justin’s First Apology has helped me to better appreciate the value of making passionate appeals to people in high government positions for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of fellow Christians. There is value in deferentially, always, always deferentially, making such gospel-filled appeals to people in government. One of the greatest hindrances to the gospel in communist circles in China is its affiliation with Western powers, the same powers that overwhelmingly embarrassed the Chinese people for over 100 years through a series of unequal treaties. Still, the American government tries to coerce communist China to make human rights, environmental and economic changes. What if missionaries, and local believers, took a more humble approach to the government. Sure there are dangers, but those dangers already exist. At least with Justin, the next emperor was put in a situation where the character of Christianity towards the state could be shown. Could not something of this magnitude happen in China or other parts of the world?