(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)
In the early days of the film industry, the art of lip syncing hadn’t quite evolved into what it is today. Maybe you’ve seen an old late-night movie where some monster is attacking the city, and the people are screaming and shouting things, and their mouths keep moving after they’re done talking, or they talk without moving their mouths. They couldn’t help it; it was the best they could do at the time. Fortunately, the movie studios learned a few tricks over time, and today you can see dubbed movies where you can actually watch the movie without wondering whether all of the characters in the story are secretly maladroit ventriloquists.
Justin Martyr’s First Apology reminds me of the history of lip syncing. Modern believers have a standard repertoire of Old Testament passages for which they claim New Testament fulfilments, and although the OT passages are still taken out of context and twisted around to fit the Christian interpretation, they at least have the appearance of being fulfilled prophecies. Back in the second century, though, believers were still having trouble getting the words to line up with what their mouths were saying.
Here’s a few samples from Chapter 40.
And hear how it was foretold concerning those who published His doctrine and proclaimed His appearance, the above-mentioned prophet and king speaking thus by the Spirit of prophecy “Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world. In the sun hath He set His tabernacle, and he as a bridegroom going out of his chamber shall rejoice as a giant to run his course.”
Justin is quoting Psalm 19, in which the psalmist exhorts believers to regard Creation as being evidence for God (and, incidentally, for a flat earth above which the sun runs a daily geocentric course). It’s not even a prediction, it’s an appeal to superstition, assigning God all the credit for wondrous things we see in the sky. Yet in Justin’s revision, Psalm 19 is supposed to be a prediction that Christians would one day preach the Christian gospel. Say what now? The words are there, but they don’t line up with the movements of Justin’s mouth.
Chapter 40 is all this same kind of bad-lip-synced prophecy. Justin claims to have Old Testament passages that will prove how God “foretold the conspiracy which was formed against Christ by Herod the king of the Jews, and the Jews themselves, and Pilate; … and how He should be believed on by men of every race; and how God calls Him His Son; … and how the devils … strive to escape the power of God; … and how God calls all to repentance before the day of judgment comes.” And what are these prophecies? Psalm 1 and 2, as quoted by Justin. (I’ll quote the whole thing so you can see what’s not there.)
Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful: but his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law will he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of waters, which shall give his fruit in his season; and his leaf shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away from the face of the earth. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the council of the righteous. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish. Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine new things? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast their yoke from us. He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh at them, and the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak to them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure. Yet have I been set by Him a King on Zion His holy hill, declaring the decree of the Lord. The Lord said to Me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth as Thy possession. Thou shall herd them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shalt Thou dash them in pieces. Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, all ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Embrace instruction, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye perish from the right way, when His wrath has been suddenly kindled. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.
You can see where Justin is superimposing his own Christian assumptions over the top of what the psalmist actually wrote. The original speaker is supposed to be King David, declaring that his ascension to the throne has raised him to the rank of God’s Anointed Son. Notice it’s not “You are my begotten Son from all eternity,” but rather “this day have I begotten Thee”—yesterday he was not God’s begotten son, because he hadn’t ascended to the throne yet, but this day he is. Psalm 2 was not originally a passage about an eternal Son being incarnated someday, it’s about an earthly king (David) becoming a Son on the day he’s crowned king.
From David’s boast that God had anointed him as a newly-begotten son, and had granted him dominion over all the surrounding nations, Justin contrives an intricately detailed prophecy about how God would send His Son, and how King Herod would conspire against Him, along with the Jews and Pilate, and how the Gospel would be given to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews, and how there’s going to be a future day of judgment that even the devils try to escape from, etc. etc. Justin’s lips keep moving long after the actual contents of the psalms have run out.
At this point Justin is pretty much flat out scamming Caesar, or at least trying to. Either Justin is deliberately lying, or he’s adopted a definition of “truth” so debased and distorted as to as to eliminate any possible meaning for the term “honesty.” And as if to reinforce this point, Justin next proceeds to write his own prophecies, and insert them into the Old Testament so they can be “fulfilled” in the New.
And again, in another prophecy, the Spirit of prophecy, through the same David, intimated that Christ, after He had been crucified, should reign, and spoke as follows: “Sing to the Lord, all the earth, and day by day declare His salvation. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, to be feared above all the gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols of devils; but God made the heavens. Glory and praise are before His face, strength and glorying are in the habitation of His holiness. Give Glory to the Lord, the Father everlasting. Receive grace, and enter His presence, and worship in His holy courts. Let all the earth fear before His face; let it be established, and not shaken. Let them rejoice among the nations. The Lord hath reigned from the tree.” [Emph. added.]
That’s roughly based on Psalm 96, and Justin’s whole point is to establish this psalm as a prediction that Jesus would reign after being nailed to a cross (or poetically, to “a tree”). The key verse here, the verse that makes Justin’s whole point, is that last bit at the end, which I’ve put in boldface. And it’s not in Psalm 96—not in any Hebrew text, not in the Septuagint, not in any Christian copy of the Psalms. Justin invented it, pure and simple. He made it up after Jesus was crucified, so that he could inject it into the Psalm and then claim that it predicted the crucifixion. Somehow he sees nothing wrong with that—truth isn’t whatever the facts are; truth is whatever it needs to be in order to preach the Gospel.
Justin even goes so far as to tell Trypho that the verse originally was there, and the Jews took it out. Isn’t that a great way to update the Bible without denying its infallibility? Just claim that your emendation was originally part of the text, and accuse the Jews of taking it out, and then insist that you’re just putting it back in again. Fast-forward about 1700 years, and you’ll find Joseph Smith repeating Justin’s trick in order to retroactively insert a bunch of Mormon doctrines into the Old and New Testaments.
Needless to say there’s not a shred of evidence to support Justin’s claims. In fact, the claim falls apart on its own devices, because if the Jews had deleted that one verse so thoroughly that it was gone before even the Septuagint was written, then where did Justin get his copy? It’s like those nuts who claim to know that Obama was born in Kenya when they only way they could have found out would be if they had a Kenyan birth certificate, and they know they don’t have any such thing. So what’s their claim based on then? Duh.
But back to Justin. The big problem with Justin’s “fulfilments” is that the passages he’s trying to use are passages that are not predictions of anything in the future. They’re contemporary accounts, referencing the immediate past, present, and future relative to the author. You’d think that might be a clue that the verses were being taken out of context, but no, Justin has a rationalization for that one too.
But when the Spirit of prophecy speaks of things that are about to come to pass as if they had already taken place, —as may be observed even in the passages already cited by me, —that this circumstance may afford no excuse to readers, we will make even this also quite plain. The things which He absolutely knows will take place, He predicts as if already they had taken place. And that the utterances must be thus received, you will perceive, if you give your attention to them. The words cited above, David uttered 1500 years before Christ became a man and was crucified; and no one of those who lived before Him, nor yet of His contemporaries, afforded joy to the Gentiles by being crucified.
Not that David ever said anything about any crucifixion bringing joy to the Gentiles, mind you.
David lived around 1,000 years BC, not 1,500BC, as Justin claims. But what’s a few centuries among historians? The main point is that you can cherry pick certain details about the passage you cite, interpret it, without any justification, as referring to something that didn’t happen in David’s lifetime, and poof, David’s poetic description of his own contemporary circumstances magically becomes a prediction of the future—despite the fact that such forward projection takes even greater liberties with the text than the contemporary interpretation!
Justin is simply taking a revisionist approach to the Bible, and assigning new, arbitrary meanings as needed in order to obtain a Christian result. And it’s not just Justin. All the early Christian leaders took the same approach, including the Gospel writers. Christianity is built on the dishonest twisting of its own Scriptures.
This is a good stopping point for now. Next time, Justin is going to dip into the “predestination vs. free will” dilemma that has long plagued Christianity. I for one am deeply glad of the change in subject. Bad lip-syncing is ok as a campy diversion now and then, but damn, it gets old.