Last rites

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

Justin, at long last, is finally reaching the end of his letter to Caesar, and he closes with a description of various rites practiced by the Christians of his day—rites that were strangely familiar to anyone accustomed to pagan worship services. Justin is sticking to his story, though: the reason that Christian worship is so similar to pagan worship is because the pagans are imitating the practices God revealed through the Jewish prophets.

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Pagan roots

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

One of the more interesting aspects of Justin Martyr’s writings is the way he promiscuously borrows from whatever sources he feels will bolster his case, be they Christian sources, Jewish sources, or pagan sources. If you’re a thinking person, you might read Justin’s frequent parallels between Christian dogma and pagan myths, and might wonder just how much of new Christian revelation is really just old pagan superstition, re-packaged and re-branded.

That notion apparently bothered Justin too, and today he’s going to take a few moments to try and poison the well so that we don’t pursue that thought too far. The parallels, he says, don’t mean that Christianity imitated paganism. Oh no.

But those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race.

Notice how Justin chastizes the pagans for failing to provide proofs for what they claim. If you were a cynic, you might hazard a guess that Justin would immediately follow that accusation with an argument for which he himself “adduces no proof.” And you’d be exactly right.

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Fast forward

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

One nice thing about modern DVD players is that they have this little button you can push during the boring parts of the movie to skim through it in fast-forward mode. Justin’s getting pretty boring these days, with his endless repetition of the same misquotations, twisted interpretations, and overdrawn conclusions, so I think we should just engage fast forward mode and just hit the highlights of the next several chapters.

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Predestination and salvation by works

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

Let’s see, where were we? For the past several chapters, Justin has been telling us how God (meaning the One True God) has everything under His control, and foretold even the most minute details of Jesus birth, death, and alleged resurrection. In Chapter 58, though, Justin’s mind goes off on a new tangent. Apparently he worries that, if God predicted everything in advance, some people will draw the conclusion that all of men’s actions are predestined by fate.

But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us … that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity … this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets … that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions… For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be.

That’s not necessarily the direction I’d have gone if I were Justin, but he seems to think it’s a valid concern, so it will be interesting to hear his arguments against predestination.

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Bad lip sync

(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.

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Justin and the Ring of Secrets

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been watching Justin Martyr run rough-shod over various Jewish prophecies, taking them out of context, editing them, and assigning them interpretations so arbitrary as to border on the downright random. Buckle your seatbelts, though, because he has a word or two of advice for us about the Jews and their scriptures.

But when you hear the utterances of the prophets spoken as it were personally, you must not suppose that they are spoken by the inspired themselves, but by the Divine Word who moves them. For … sometimes He speaks as from the person of God the Lord and Father of all; sometimes as from the person of Christ; sometimes as from the person of the people answering the Lord or His Father… And this the Jews … did not understand, and therefore did not recognise Christ even when He came, but even hate us who say that He has come…

Yep, the reason you don’t actually find Messianic prophecies when you go back and read those Jewish scriptures is because the Jews don’t know how to interpret literature properly. And it’s Justin Martyr who says so.

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The pattern of prophetic fulfillment

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

Back when my wife and I were looking for a new house, we found a place that seemed rather nice, on a large rural property, for a fairly reasonable price. We were interested enough to have a home inspector come out and take a look at it, and were shocked by the report: while it was obviously older and a little run down, it looked like a pretty good house. Underneath, though, there were termites and dry rot and a whole bunch of nasty stuff. Needless to say, we looked elsewhere.

Justin Martyr seems to be giving us the same sort of insights into the origins of the Christian faith. From his privileged vantage point in the early days of the church, he’s shining the light of history on the foundations of Christian doctrine, and exposing its weaknesses. There’s a pattern to the prophecies the early Christians built their faith on, and the fulfilments they saw for these prophecies. Unfortunately, the pattern is that they’re taking any passage they can find, ripping it completely out of context, and then applying it by sheer free association without regard for accuracy or even common sense. In other words, it’s simply bullshit.

Now, one or two far-fetched and out-of-context “fulfilments” might be an accident, or simple carelessness. Justin, however, is making these bogus “miracles” the whole focus of his argument before Caesar. And it’s not just one or two instances of a misquoted scripture. As we’ll see today, virtually all of the prophetic “proofs” used by Justin and others follow the same pattern of misquotation, misinterpretation, and misapplication.

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The “virgin birth” prophecy

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

A little historical background before we get to Justin Martyr today.

Now it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Aram and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not conquer it. When it was reported to the house of David, saying, “The Arameans have camped in Ephraim,” his heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.

This is about 700BC, after the Davidic kingdom of Israel had split into two separate nations: the 10 tribes of Israel in the north, and the smaller nation of Judah in the south. King Ahaz (one of David’s descendants but not one of God’s favorites, according to the Bible) was king in Judah, and Pekah was king in Israel. Rezin, meanwhile, was king of Aram (a nation/state in what is now central Syria), and he and Pekah got together to try and overthrow Ahaz and install a puppet king. From a modern, Western perspective it might seem like a minor bit of historical trivia, and not at all the sort of incident that you would expect to give rise to religions, heresies, and innumerable Christmas carols.

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The Free Association Game

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

We’re in chapter 32 of Justin’s First Apology, and amazingly, we’ve only scratched the surface of everything Justin is getting wrong in his attempts to manufacture some kind of Messianic fulfilment for various Old Testament passages. Last week we looked at how he took Jacob’s blessing of his son Judah, from Genesis 49, and rebuilt it as a prediction that Jesus would preach the gospel just before the Romans took control of the Jewish territories in Palestine, using the ambiguity surrounding the meaning of the uncertain word “Shiloh” in verse 10.

I’ve done some more reading, and it turns out the actual meaning of this passage may be simpler than I thought. Most modern Christian translations of Gen. 49:10 render it as “The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until He whose right it is comes,” or words to that effect. But the actual Hebrew also allows a decidedly less Messianic reading, as indicated in the footnote of the Holman Christian Standard translation: “…until He comes to Shiloh.” And that’s a much more straightforward reading.

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Proof at last!

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

We come at last to Chapter 30 of Justin’s First Apology, and when you read it, you’ll see why I say “at last!”

But lest any one should meet us with the question, What should prevent that He whom we call Christ, being a man born of men, performed what we call His mighty works by magical art, and by this appeared to be the Son of God? we will now offer proof, not trusting mere assertions, but being of necessity persuaded by those who prophesied before these things came to pass, for with our own eyes we behold things that have happened and are happening just as they were predicted; and this will, we think appear even to you the strongest and truest evidence.

In other words, Justin is going to give us something we’ve been looking for since 29AD: conclusive, objective, verifiable proof that Jesus is not just some ordinary Joe doing ordinary magic tricks, but is in fact the veritable Son of God (whatever that means).

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