Justin Martyr on the Logos

Justin Martyr on the Logos January 4, 2021

There is an intensification of Logos christology among the early apologists especially with Justin Martyr.

Justin makes no explicit mention of the Fourth Gospel, but it is far more likely than not that he knows of it and alludes to it,[1] and his Logos theology is best understood in light of its Johannine heritage.[2] Justin’s Logos is God’s instrument of revelation to humans (Dial. 128.2). The whole world come into being by a “Word of God” (Dial. 84.2; 1 Apol. 59.5; 64.5; 2 Apol. 5.3).[3] The Logos goes under various names from Scripture such as “Glory of the Lord,” “Son,” “Wisdom,” “Angel,” “God,” “Lord,” “Logos,” and “Commander” (Dial. 61.1; cf. 126.1; 128.1). The Logos is the seed of reason by which philosophers and barbarians were able to know the truth (1 Apol. 5.4; 46.1-6; 2 Apol. 13.3-6). The “divine Logos” moved the prophets to prophesy (1 Apol. 36.1). Jesus as the Logos is, then, that “rational power” (Dial.61.1) or “rational principle” (2 Apol. 10.1), who “acquired physical form and became a human being” (1 Apol. 5.4; 23.2; 63.10) by taking on “flesh” (1 Apol. 32.10; 66.2; Dial. 45.4; 84.2; 100.2).[4] He was “born from God … as Logos of God” (1 Apol. 22.2), born in a special manner from a virgin (Dial. 63-70; 1 Apol. 21.1-2; 22.2; 23.2; 32.10-33.9; 46.5; 63.16).

The center of gravity in Justin’s christology is to argue for a God beside God the Father, a first Power, the first-born and only-begotten Son of the unbegotten Father, the Logos who is Christ (Dial. 61.1-3; 1 Apol. 13.3; 21.1; 22.1-2; 23.2; 32.10; 46.2; 53.2; 60.7; 63.4, 10, 15; 2 Apol. 10.3, 8).[5] To that end, we can detect a very strong sense of divinity attributed to the Logos. The “Logos is divine” (1 Apol. 10.6; 36.1), he was pre-existent before creation and “already existed as God” (Dial. 61.1; 62.1-4; 87.2; 129.3; 2 Apol. 5.3). The Logos is “the son of the true God” (1 Apol.13.3) and is worshipped (Dial. 38.1; 1 Apol. 6.2; 13.3-4; 2 Apol. 13.4).  Even so, the Son is not the Father, but the Father has always had a Son, the “first-born Logos of God, is also God” (logos prōtotokos ōn  tou theou kai theos hyparchei) (1 Apol. 63.15). Justin’s analogies for Christ’s divinity vis-à-vis God the Father are like a thought from a mind or a fire kindling fire. Jesus is begotten from the Father, not an excision (apotome) of his essence (ousia) (Dial. 61.2; 128.3-4). Jesus is distinct in number, but not in substance (Dial. 56.11; 128.4; 129.3). Eric Osborne sums it up: “The word is God’s first-born, God himself, God to him in number, but one with him in essence.”[6]

Yet Justin also implies a certain subordination because God is unbegotten and everything after him is begotten and corruptive (Dial. 5.4) and the Son holds “second place” with the prophetic spirit “in the third rank” (1 Apol. 13.3-4; 60.7).[7] Justin argues that the Logos is “another God and Lord under the Creator of all things, who is also called an Angel, because he proclaims to man whatever the Creator of the world— above whom there is no other God— wishes to reveal to them” (Dial. 56.4; cf. 55.1; 61.1; 128.4; 129.4). This angel “called God, is distinct from God, the Creator; distinct, that is, in number, but not in mind” (Dial. 56.11). A God beneath God is supported by way of citations to Ps 45:6-7 and 110:1 (Dial. 56.14). Justin identifies God with the Angel of the Lord, this Angel with the pre-incarnate Christ, who appeared to Moses in the fire (Dial. 57-60; 127.4; 1 Apol. 62.3-4; 63.7-8, 17).[8]

[1] The reference to “new birth” and entering the “kingdom of heaven” in 1 Apol. 61.4-5 is far more likely derived from Jn 3:5 than to an independent baptismal liturgy or general tradition.

[2] Hengel (Johannine Question, 13) wrote that Justin’s Logos Christology “is inconceivable without the prologue of John.” For Hill (Johannine Corpus, 318), Justin’s notion of Christ as “God’s only Son, begotten in a peculiar manner is more or less simply a repackaging of John’s notion of the pre-existent, divine Word, the monogenes of the Father.” One would still have to admit that Justin augments Johannine Logos with the “firstborn” of Col 1:15, married it with the Synoptic infancey narratives, and identifies Christ with angelic traits. More circumspect is Frey (“Torah and Stoa,” 199), “John could inspire all these ideas, but they are also easily developed from Philo and the Bible, in the context of Greek philosophy, and in dispute with contemporary Jewish views.”

[3] Of course, Justin might mean “Word” here like Ps 33:6 rather than Jn 1:1-3.

[4] Justin’s favourite word here is the participle sarkopoētheis for “made fleshing.”

[5] One can see a similarity with Middle Platonists such as Numenius of Apamea who identified three Gods, a “first God” who is an indivisible Father, and a duumvirate Creator consisting of two gods (Frag. 11). Alcinous distinguished between a “first God” who is eternal and perfect and other daemons who are lesser or begotten gods (Handbook 10.1; 15.1).

[6] Eric F. Osborne, Justin Martyr (BZHT 47; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1973), 28.

[7] L.W. Barnard (Justin Martyr: His Life and Thought [Cambridge: CUP, 1967], 100) points out: “It was inevitable that his unsystematised language about the derivative nature of the logos should later be capable of an Arian interpretation. Yet it is equally clear that Justin believed in the full Divinity of the Son.”

[8] Justin frequently cites Gen 19:24 (LXX): “The Lord rained down fire from the Lord out of heaven,” in Dial. 56. 23, 60.5, 127. 5, 129.1.

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