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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Justin Martyr and the 'Man of Men' Christology (Part 1)

In my previous post, I offered some comments on a talk given by Christadelphian apologist Dave Burke on the subject of second century Gentile Christianity. On the positive side, it is encouraging that Dave implicitly recognizes the importance of second century Christian writings for correctly understanding the beliefs and practices of the early church. On the negative side, Dave tends to view the second century church through Christadelphian lenses which sometimes clouds his reading of the sources. Justin Martyr’s reference to those who held a ‘man of men’ Christology is a case in point.

Dave notes that (wrongly, in his view) Justin himself believed in the pre-existence and ontological divinity of Christ. He then describes Justin's views on others who do not share these doctrines with him:

"He says that he knows other Christians who do not believe that Jesus pre-existed as a divine being who believed that Jesus was a literal flesh and blood mortal human being, and that he only became immortal when he was resurrected, and he acknowledges these other Christians, and he still accepts them as Christians, and crucially, he admits that theirs is the older belief, which is very interesting."1

Dave is obviously taking his cues here from Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho 48.4. However, his description of Justin’s views is unfortunately a combination of misrepresentation and partial disclosure. Over the next three posts my aim is to provide some commentary that will hopefully enable the reader to better understand this passage.

The relevant text reads as follows in the 19th century Roberts-Donaldson translation:

"Now assuredly, Trypho," I continued," [the proof] that this man is the Christ of God does not fail, though I be unable to prove that He existed formerly as Son of the Maker of all things, being God, and was born a man by the Virgin. 3 But since I have certainly proved that this man is the Christ of God, whoever He be, even if I do not prove that He pre-existed, and submitted to be born a man of like passions with us, having a body, according to the Father's will; in this last matter alone is it just to say that I have erred, and not to deny that He is the Christ, though it should appear that He was born man of men, and [nothing more] is proved [than this], that He has become Christ by election. 4 For there are some, my friends," I said, "of our2 race, who admit that He is Christ, while holding Him to be man of men; with whom I do not agree, nor would I, even though most of those who have [now] the same opinions as myself should say so; since we were enjoined by Christ Himself to put no faith in human doctrines, but in those proclaimed by the blessed prophets and taught by Himself." (Dialogue 48.2-4)

This text, together with Dave’s description of it, raises three important questions which I plan to address below and in two subsequent posts.

1)      What was the ‘man of men’ Christology Justin referred to in Dialogue 48.4?
2)      Did Justin accept those who held the ‘man of men’ Christology as Christians?
3)      How did Justin view the age and popularity of the ‘man of men’ Christology relative to his own Christology?

Let us begin with the first question, which is the easiest to answer. What was the Christology to which Justin referred and with which he disagreed? Justin says that there were some who admitted that Jesus was the Christ, while holding him to be a “man of men.” This stands in contrast to Justin’s own view, that Christ pre-existed and was born a man by the virgin. As the term ‘man of men’ implies, those who held this view denied the virgin birth, as well as the pre-existence. Now Dave neglects to mention that ‘man of men’ refers to a man born of human parentage, i.e. without a virgin birth. Instead, he takes ‘man of men’ to mean “that Jesus was a literal flesh and blood mortal human being.”

This interpretation cannot be sustained. In the first place, Justin himself affirmed that Jesus was a literal flesh and blood mortal human being. This can be seen within the immediate context, in which Justin refers to Jesus as “a man of like passions with us, having a body.” Trypho too had just acknowledged that Justin believed that Christ “submitted to be born and become man, yet that He is not man of man” (Dialogue 48.1). In several other places in the Dialogue Justin affirms Jesus’ humanity in robust terms (Dialogue 57.3; 67.6; 70.4; 98.1; 99.2; 100.2-3; 103.8; 110.2). In another of his writings, Justin explicitly repudiates a Docetic view of Christ:

“And there are some who maintain that even Jesus Himself appeared only as spiritual, and not in flesh, but presented merely the appearance of flesh: these persons seek to rob the flesh of the promise.” (On the Resurrection 2)

Obviously ‘man of men’ cannot refer to a Christology with which Justin himself agrees; thus Dave’s interpretation of this term is clearly incorrect. In Dialogue 54.2 Justin makes it clear what he means by the term ‘man of men’: “But this prophecy, sirs, which I repeated, proves that Christ is not man of men, begotten in the ordinary course of humanity.” Again, in Dialogue 67.2 and 76.1-2, the phrase ‘man of men’ is contrasted specifically with the idea of virgin birth or supernatural origin.

We can thus state conclusively that the doctrine that Christ was a ‘man of men’ does not refer to his literal, flesh and blood, mortal humanity (something Justin himself affirmed). Instead, it refers specifically to the view that Jesus was conceived in the usual way by the sexual union of two human parents, in contrast to Justin’s belief in the virgin birth. Denial of Christ’s pre-existence is an obvious corollary, but the immediate sense of ‘man of men’ is a repudiation of the doctrine of the virgin birth.

The way Dave described this text in his talk, the listener gets the impression that Justin is drawing a contrast between his own Docetic pre-existence Christology and a Christology which would be acceptable to Christadelphians. In fact, the listener would be mistaken on both counts. Justin was not a Docetist, and the ‘man of men’ Christology is not compatible with that of Christadelphians. Article 3 of the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith states that Jesus was “begotten of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, without the intervention of man”3 while Article 28 of the Doctrines to be Rejected declares, “We reject the doctrine – that Joseph was the actual father of Jesus.”4

Hence, Dialogue 48.4 can only be construed as a contrast between two Christologies which are both regarded by Christadelphians as heretical.

There is no hint anywhere in the Dialogue of a Christology which (like Christadelphians) affirms the virgin birth but denies the pre-existence and incarnation. Indeed, throughout the Dialogue, it is virtually assumed that the pre-existence and virgin birth are inextricably linked. Trypho does not seem to find the virgin birth any easier to accept than the pre-existence. He regards the virgin birth as a “monstrous phenomenon” comparable to the foolish talk of the Greeks (Dialogue 67.2). He also appears to concede that the idea of pre-existent divinity links logically into the idea of virgin birth (Dialogue 50.1; 57.3; 63.1). For Justin's part, he repeatedly refers to the two ideas together in a way that shows they are inseparable in his mind (Dialogue 45.4; 48.2; 75.4; 84.1-2; 85.2; 87.2; 100.2-4; 105.1; 113.4; 127.4).

To summarize, Dave has unfortunately left his audience with an exaggerated sense of the significance of this text for Christadelphian apologetics. Justin’s extant writings do not in fact contain any evidence that a Christology compatible with that of Christadelphians existed in his day.

In the next post we will look at a trickier question: how Justin viewed those who held the 'man of men' Christology.


1 Burke, D. (Producer). (2014). Servants of the Lord NSW 2014, Session 8 [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.milktomeat.org.
2 Or, ‘your race’ (see discussion in following post).
3 The Christadelphian Statement of Faith. Retrieved from http://christadelphia.org/basf.htm.
4 Doctrines to be Rejected. Retrieved from http://christadelphia.org/reject.htm.

11 comments:

Dave Burke said...

Tom,

>>
Now Dave neglects to mention that ‘man of men’ refers to a man born of human parentage, i.e. without a virgin birth.

Instead, he takes ‘man of men’ to mean “that Jesus was a literal flesh and blood mortal human being.”
>>

How is 'a man born of human parentage, i.e. without a virgin birth' substantially different from 'a literal flesh and blood mortal human being'? Surely a man born of human parentage IS a literal flesh and blood mortal human being.

You're trying to fabricate a contradiction while falsely accusing me of omitting vital information. This is absurd.

Dave Burke said...

Tom,

>>
The way Dave described this text in his talk, the listener gets the impression that Justin is drawing a contrast between his own Docetic pre-existence Christology and a Christology which would be acceptable to Christadelphians.
>>

This is a gross misrepresentation. I am fully aware that Justin Martyr did not possess a Docetic Christology and I never once suggest otherwise in my talk.

The key issue is pre-existence, as I make abundantly clear.

Tom said...

>>>How is 'a man born of human parentage, i.e. without a virgin birth' substantially different from 'a literal flesh and blood mortal human being'?<<<

It's surprising that you could ask this when your own statement of faith (BASF) holds the second proposition about Jesus to be gospel truth and the first to be heretical!

Justin similarly affirmed the second proposition and repudiated the first, so he too obviously regarded them as substantially different.

>>>This is a gross misrepresentation. I am fully aware that Justin Martyr did not possess a Docetic Christology and I never once suggest otherwise in my talk.<<<

When you tell your hearers that Justin "says that he knows other Christians who do not believe that Jesus pre-existed as a divine being who believed that Jesus was a literal flesh and blood mortal human being", you are drawing an implicit contrast between these two beliefs. This leaves your audience with the impression that "literal flesh and blood mortal human being" was not something Justin himself believed, but rather an alternative to his pre-existent divine being Christology.

I'm glad you are aware that Justin believed Jesus was a "literal flesh and blood mortal human being", but you certainly didn't make this clear in your talk.

You did indeed omit two pieces of vital information.

Dave Burke said...

Tom,

>>
It's surprising that you could ask this when your own statement of faith (BASF) holds the second proposition about Jesus to be gospel truth and the first to be heretical!
>>

It's not at all surprising. You're changing the goalposts. You've found it necessary to do this because it's the only way you can continue to argue the point: by changing it completely. You are now deliberately obfuscating.

The fact that I don't believe Jesus was not virgin-born is completely irrelevant.

It is no contradiction to say that 'a man born of human parentage, i.e. without a virgin birth' is not substantially different from 'a literal flesh and blood mortal human being.' There is no substantial difference between the two.


>>
Justin similarly affirmed the second proposition and repudiated the first, so he too obviously regarded them as substantially different.
>>

Not so fast. Remember, we're talking about the statements 'a man born of human parentage, i.e. without a virgin birth' and 'a literal flesh and blood mortal human being.'

I don't believe Justin saw a substantial difference between these two statements. Do you?

>>
When you tell your hearers that Justin "says that he knows other Christians who do not believe that Jesus pre-existed as a divine being who believed that Jesus was a literal flesh and blood mortal human being", you are drawing an implicit contrast between these two beliefs.
>>

That's right. The difference is between 'pre-existent divine being' and 'literal flesh and blood mortal human being.'

Justin believed Jesus to be a pre-existent divine being; oh sure, he also believed him to be flesh and blood, but he did not believe him to be a mortal human being.

Nowhere do I state or imply that Justin rejected the physical corporeality of Jesus. You have to read this into my words in order to create your manufactroversy.

Again, this is a deliberate assumption of bad faith for the sake of cheap point scoring.

>>
This leaves your audience with the impression that "literal flesh and blood mortal human being" was not something Justin himself believed, but rather an alternative to his pre-existent divine being Christology.
>>

Not at all. I have presented this talk at least four times over the past 2 years and nobody has ever come to that conclusion. They have all understood me perfectly.

You're the first person to take a different view.

>>
You did indeed omit two pieces of vital information.
>>

No, I didn't.

Dave Burke said...

On the meaning of 'man of men', here's a scholar who believes it's a reference to the idea that Jesus was a human (not a divine being) who not pre-exist:

--'Here Justin refers to those either of "your (Trypho's) race", or of "our (Christian) race" who admit that Jesus is the Christ, but believe him to be "man of men", which seems to imply that they entertain a low christology which excludes any understanding of Jesus' pre-existence.'

William Horbury, The Cambridge History of Judaism 2 Part Set: Volume 3, The Early Roman Period (Cambridge University Press, 1999), 757.

Likewise Hillar:

--'Jews expected a Messiah, but this Messiah with all exaltation ascribed to him was to be a human, "a man of men," and moreover, as Trypho states in the dialogue with Justin, he was to be preceded by the coming of the prophet Elijah, who would anoint him.'

Marian Hillar, From Logos to Trinity: The Evolution of Religious Beliefs from Pythagoras to Tertullian (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 151.

I hold the same view, as you have already seen. I am open to alternative explanations, but to date I haven't found a compelling reason to change my position.

Dave Burke said...

Justin says says that since he has proved Jesus is the Christ, then even if he does not prove that Jesus pre-existed and submitted to be born a man, having a body, he would be wrong only in this last matter (the matter of pre-existence) and not wrong to say that Jesus was the Christ; it would just be a Christ who was a man of men, and therefore Christ by election rather than nature.

So this appears to be contrasting 'man of men' with pre-existence, not with the virgin birth.

It seems to me that in Justin's mind, Jesus could still be the Christ even if he did not pre-exist and was merely 'man of men.'

Tom said...

Dave,

1) a man born of human parentage, i.e. without a virgin birth
2) a literal flesh and blood mortal human being

You continue to assert that there is no substantial difference between these two statements, and that Justin would see no substantial difference between them.

In response, I can only repeat that the BASF regards the first as a heretical description of Jesus and the second as a vitally true description of Jesus. Meanwhile, Justin repudiated the first as a human doctrine and emphatically affirmed the second.

There is no moving of goalposts here; just facts demonstrating that in both the Christadelphian belief system and in Justin's, there is a substantial difference between these two statements.

>>>Justin believed Jesus to be a pre-existent divine being; oh sure, he also believed him to be flesh and blood, but he did not believe him to be a mortal human being.<<<

You earlier accused me of gross misrepresentation for saying you gave the impression Justin's Christology was Docetic. Now, you claim that he denied Christ's mortality - one of the hallmarks of Docetism! So it appears that after all you do hold Justin's Christology to be at least quasi-Docetic.

You didn't present any evidence for this assertion, and there is an abundance of evidence to the contrary.

"...but by faith through the blood and the death of Christ who suffered death for this precise purpose." (Dialogue 13.1)

"'Trypho,' I exclaimed, 'some of these and similar passages from, the Prophets refer to the first coming of Christ, in which He is described as coming in disgrace, obscurity, and mortality.'" (Dialogue 14.8)

"So go on, now, to prove how this God who appeared to Abraham, and ministered to the Creator of the universe, was born of a virgin, and became a man, as you claim, suffering like all others." (Dialogue 57.3, Trypho speaking; Justin agrees to prove this).

"I also admit that He condescended to become man, that He was crucified and died after enduring all the suffering inflicted upon Him by your own people." (Dialogue 67.6)

"Permit me to quote that whole Psalm, that you may perceive how He reveres His Father and how He refers all things to Him, as when He prays to be freed by Him from this death; at the same time pointing out in the Psalm what sort of men His enemies were, and proving that He indeed became a man who was capable of suffering." (Dialogue 98.1)

"For, on the day of His crucifixion He took three of His disciples to the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple in Jerusalem, and prayed thus: 'Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from Me;' but He ended His prayer by saying, 'Not My will, but Yours be done', thus making it clear that He had really become a man capable of suffering." (Dialogue 99.2)

"so that we may understand that the Father wished His Son to endure in reality these severe sufferings for us, and may not declare that, since He was the Son of God, He did not feel what was done and inflicted upon Him." (Dialogue 103.8)

"For they have missed the point of all the cited passages, namely, that two advents of Christ have been proclaimed: the first, in which He is shown to be subject to suffering and the crucifixion, without glory or honor" (Dialogue 110.2)

>>>Not at all. I have presented this talk at least four times over the past 2 years and nobody has ever come to that conclusion.<<<

But you've come to that conclusion yourself! You replied "That's right" to my claim that you were drawing an implicit contrast between these two beliefs, and stated that Justin didn't believe Jesus was a mortal human being.

Tom said...

Importantly, both Horbury and Hillar provide their audiences with the actual phrase Justin used, "man of men", which you did not. And the phrase itself implies a merely human origin and thus a denial of the virgin birth. This is even clearer when the other occurrences of the phrase in the Dialogue are considered in context.

Immediately prior to our passage, when Justin uses the phrase in Dialogue 48.3, at issue is whether Christ "was born man of men." We see already that it has to do with the manner of his birth.

When Justin repudiates the 'man of men' doctrine in Dialogue 54.1-2, he is explicit that the manner of Christ's human birth is at issue: ("Christ derives blood not from the seed of man, but from the power of God...Christ is not man of men, begotten in the ordinary course of humanity").

When Trypho affirms "that this Jesus was born man of men" in Dialogue 67.1-2, he is specifically contesting the virgin birth interpretation of Isaiah 7:14.

Again, in Dialogue 76.1-2, where Justin once more denies that Christ was a man of men, he is affirming that Christ "was man, but not of human seed". He argues from Daniel 2 that the stone cut out without hands "is not a work of man, but [a work] of the will of the Father and God of all things, who brought Him forth."

In every case where the Dialogue uses this expression, it has to do with Christ's manner of birth, and specifically represents a denial of the virgin birth. It does not refer merely to the idea that Christ was a literal flesh and blood mortal human being, which was something Justin himself taught.

Tom said...

>>>So this appears to be contrasting 'man of men' with pre-existence, not with the virgin birth.<<<

On what basis do you draw this antithesis? Pre-existence and the virgin birth were closely related in Justin's mind. Both the phrase 'man of men', read literally, and the way Justin and Trypho use it throughout the Dialogue, show that it is contrasted with virgin birth. This is not to deny a contrast with pre-existence.

>>>It seems to me that in Justin's mind, Jesus could still be the Christ even if he did not pre-exist and was merely 'man of men.'<<<

I didn't dispute this. Proving that Jesus was the Christ was logically prior in Justin's argument to proving that he was God and born of a virgin.

Gary said...




Jupiter
Justin Martyr makes known in his First Apology, at Chapter 21:

"And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter."

In making claims regarding Christ's virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven, Justin is saying nothing different than what the Romans had maintained of their gods.

The vast bulk of the Jews rejected the notion of Jesus being god incarnate and all the attendant mythological paraphernalia...right to this very day.

The stories of a Virgin Birth and a Resurrection, which appear in four anonymous late first century Christian works of literature, are based on Roman mythology, folks. Let's just accept the obvious: The Gospel stories are myths. Even one of the earliest Church Fathers admits it.

Tom said...

Gary, sorry for posting your comment late - I normally get email notifications about this and for some reason I didn't this time.

I thank you for your comment. I'm not really interested in debating whether the virgin birth and resurrection happened as it's not what the blog post was about.

However, there is a great difference between noting similarities between the Gospels' account of Jesus' birth and resurrection and Roman myths, and claiming that the former are based on the latter.

I would agree that the Gospel stories are myths in the technical sense of the word rather than the popular sense (which has a negative value judgment attached). They are myths inasmuch as the stories have otherworldly components to them, but that doesn't mean they're untrue.