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Thursday, 11 August 2016

Justin Martyr, the soul, and Christadelphian apologetics

In the previous article, we discussed how Christadelphian apologetic discourse has seldom engaged with the classical Christian position on the afterlife, focusing its attack instead on popular folk theology. In particular, Christadelphians have regarded resurrection of the body and immortality of the soul as mutually exclusive doctrines, and have often assumed that orthodox Christians affirm the latter and not the former. We pointed out in the previous article that traditional Christian teaching affirms both.

The 'resurrection vs. immortal soulism' paradigm has affected the way Christadelphians read ancient texts. Specifically, a writer who expresses belief in bodily resurrection is assumed not to believe that the soul survives death, and vice versa. In this article, we will see how this assumption has led Christadelphians to misunderstand the theology of one early Christian writer, Justin Martyr, even as they appeal to him as a witness to the antiquity of Christadelphian doctrine.

Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho

The Dialogue with Trypho is an account of a theological dialogue between Justin Martyr, a Christian apologist, and Trypho, a non-Christian Diaspora Jew, written by Justin in the mid-second century. While many scholars have concluded that Trypho was a fictional, stereotyped Jew invented by Justin for rhetorical purposes, Horner has recently made the case that he was a real person and that the extant Dialogue is a sort of revised and expanded second edition of an earlier account of an authentic dialogue.1 Boyarin, a Jewish scholar, is impressed by Justin's detailed knowledge of Judaism,2 while Skarsaune argues that Justin's thought is 'very Jewish' and that he probably took his Christological arguments from earlier, Jewish Christian tradition.3 In any case, the Dialogue is an important historical source for reconstructing early Christianity - indeed, 'far and away the longest Christian document we have from the second century.'4 (I've written previously about Justin's use of Greek philosophy here.)

Dialogue with Trypho 80.4 in Christadelphian apologetics

Since the days of their founder, Dr. John Thomas, Christadelphian apologists have periodically enlisted Justin to prove that, as late as the mid-second century, the Christadelphian view of the afterlife was still current while what later became established as orthodoxy (the immortality of the soul and heaven-going) was regarded as heretical. The passage from Justin Martyr's writings that is usually quoted is this:
If you have ever encountered any nominal Christians who do not admit this doctrine [i.e. the doctrine of God], but dare to blaspheme the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob by asserting that there is no resurrection of the dead, but that their souls are taken up to heaven at the very moment of their death, do not consider them to be real Christians, just as one, after careful examination, would not acknowledge as Jews the Sadducees or similar sects' (Dialogue with Trypho 80.4, emphasis added)5
It is not difficult to see why this passage has proven popular in Christadelphian apologetics: it sounds like it could have been written by a Christadelphian. It upholds resurrection as the Christian hope over against heaven-going of the soul at death. This passage is quoted repeatedly by Dr. John Thomas,6 by Thomas Williams,7 by C.C. Walker,8 and now in the Internet age by Paul Billington, Matt Daviesinstructional material of the Dawn Christadelphians,9 and Dave Burke. (One prominent Christadelphian who appears not to have had much use for Justin Martyr is Robert Roberts, who referred to him as an 'ecclesiastical driveller'.)10

Some of these writers quote the passage virtually without comment, as though its meaning and implications were self-evident. I think most have simply assumed that if Justin believed in resurrection rather than heaven-going, he must have been a mortalist.11

Let us look at the inferences that Christadelphian writers have explicitly drawn from Dialogue 80.4.
From this we learn, that what is orthodox now concerning souls going to heaven was regarded by the contemporaries of the Apostle as sufficiently pestilential to consign the men that held it to eternal reprobation12
Here you see that Justin Martyr, 150 years after Christ, is proving the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead by the fact that men have not gone to heaven or to hell, but that they were dead and needed a resurrection for a future life.13
He rejected the immortality of the soul in unambiguous terms.14
The way Christadelphian apologists have used this passage from Justin Martyr leaves their readers with the impression that (1) Justin's views on the afterlife were compatible with Christadelphian teaching, while (2) the views he attacked as non-Christian were compatible with later orthodox teaching. As it turns out, both (1) and (2) are mistaken.

Before turning to the evidence for this claim, I want to emphasize that I am not accusing Christadelphian apologists of knowingly withholding information about Justin's beliefs in order to misrepresent him for apologetic ends. I presume that the use of Dialogue with Trypho 80.4 in Christadelphian apologetics has, in good faith, tried to accurately represent Justin's beliefs but failed to take account of all of the evidence. Accordingly, I undertake to show from Justin's writings that Christadelphians have widely misunderstood his views on the afterlife, in the hope that this passage will be handled differently by Christadelphians in the future.

Happily, at least one Christadelphian apologist has already warned against interpreting Justin's views on the afterlife as proto-Christadelphian. Jonathan Burke writes:
A number of early Christian writers, such as Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Theophilus of Antioch, Arnobius, and Lactantius, held that the soul was not independently immortal, and could die. However, they must be understood as arguing specifically against the Platonic teachings of the Greeks that the soul was immortal of itself. Other than Arnobius, they do not appear to be arguing that the soul ceases to exist at death.15
This qualification is of crucial importance, and if it were heeded by Christadelphians, there would not be much need for this article. However, Jonathan does not interact with Justin's writings directly, citing only secondary sources. Nor does he provide detailed information about Justin's beliefs concerning the afterlife, or the beliefs he was attacking as heretical. I aim, therefore, to elaborate on Jonathan's observations by filling in the details from Justin's own testimony.

In the remainder of this article, I hope to demonstrate from Justin's writings that the following are true:
(1') Justin's position on the state of the dead was incompatible with Christadelphian doctrine, and much closer to orthodox doctrine;
(2') The position that Justin was attacking as non-Christian is one that is also considered heretical by orthodox Christians
Justin's beliefs about the afterlife 

It is clear from Dialogue 80.4, quoted above, that Justin believed in the resurrection of the dead. As he writes elsewhere:
Receive us, at least like these, since we believe in God not less, but rather more, than they do: we who expect even to receive our own bodies again, after they have died and been put in the earth, since we say that nothing is impossible for God. (1 Apology 18.6)16
But what did Justin believe happened to people between death and resurrection? Did he teach, as Christadelphians do, that when we die we cease to exist? Did he 'reject the doctrine - that man consciously exists in death'?17 The following quotations from his First Apology make his position clear:
1 Consider what happened to each of the kings that have been. They died just like everybody else. Which, if death led to unconsciousness, would have been a godsend to all the unjust. 2 But, since consciousness endures for all those who have existed, and eternal punishment lies in store, take care to be persuaded and to believe that these things are true. 3 For conjurings of the dead – both visions obtained through uncorrupted children, and the summoning of human souls – and those whom magicians call “dream-senders” or “attendants” – and the things done by those who know these things – let these persuade you that even after death souls remain in consciousness. (1 Apology 18.1-3, emphasis added)
And in our saying that the souls of the wicked are punished after death, remaining in consciousness, and that the souls of the virtuous remain free from punishment and live happily, we will seem to say the same things as the poets and philosophers. (1 Apology 20.4, emphasis added)
In case it might be claimed that the views expressed in the First Apology differ from those in the Dialogue with Trypho, consider the following passage from the Dialogue. This is from the account of Justin's conversation with an old man by the sea that led to his conversion to Christianity. 'He' is the old man and 'I' is Justin. The positions expressed by the old man are thus being construed by Justin as Christian teaching.
4.7. “Therefore,” he concluded, “souls do not see God, nor do they transmigrate into other bodies”… 5.1. “Nor should we call the soul immortal, for, if it were, we would certainly have to call it unbegotten.”… 5.2. “Souls, then, are not immortal.” “No,” I said, “since it appears that the world itself was generated.” “3. On the other hand,” he continued, “I do not claim that any soul ever perishes, for this would certainly be a benefit to sinners. What happens to them? The souls of the devout dwell in a better place, whereas the souls of the unjust and the evil abide in a worse place, and there they await the judgment day. Those, therefore, who are deemed worthy to see God will never perish, but the others will be subjected to punishment as long as God allows them to exist and as long as he wants them to be punished.” (Dialogue with Trypho 4.7-5.3, emphasis added)
In this passage, the old man is trying to persuade Justin of the truth of Christianity by attacking Platonism, which regarded souls as unbegotten, intrinsically immortal, and capable of transmigrating into other bodies. However, the Christian alternative reflected here is not mortalism. It regards souls neither as predisposed to mortality nor as intrinsically immortal but as existing continuously unless God should decide to annihilate them. Moreover, this passage reflects the same belief as the First Apology in a conscious intermediate state for the soul between death and resurrection.

The difference between Justin's views on the intermediate state and those of later orthodoxy are mainly geographical: Justin appears not to have believed that the souls of the righteous ascend to heaven at death (given his antipathy toward this idea in Dialogue 80.4), but that they reside 'happily' in 'a better place'. However, in his Second Apology,18 Justin appears to countenance the idea of heaven-going at death, at least for martyrs. Recounting the interrogation of a Christian who was subsequently martyred, Justin writes:
Another Christian, a man called Lucius, on seeing the judgement given in this irrational way, said to Urbicus: "Why did you order this  man to be punished when he is not convicted of... any evil deed at all...? Your judgement does not befit a pioius emperor..." His only reply was similarly to say to Lucius: "I think you also are one of them." And when Lucius said, "Certainly", Urbicus ordered that he too be led away. Lucius further confessed that he was thankful to have been set free from evil masters such as these and that he was going to the father and king of all. (Second Apology 2.15-19, emphasis added)
If Justin could attribute such a belief to one he regarded as a faithful Christian martyr, it follows that Justin probably affirmed the same idea himself.19 It is plausible that Justin believed that heaven-going at death is a privilege reserved only for martyrs, while the rest of the righteous dead spend the intermediate state in Abraham's bosom, understood as a compartment within Hades.20

Hence, we can summarize Justin's individual eschatology as follows:
  • After death, all souls continue to exist consciously
  • The souls of the righteous go to a better place and the souls of the wicked to a worse place (both in Hades?), where they await resurrection and the final judgment
  • The souls of martyrs ascend to heaven

The afterlife beliefs that Justin regarded as heretical

What is the position that Justin regards as blasphemous and non-Christian in Dialogue 80.4? It is 'that there is no resurrection of the dead, but that their souls are taken up to heaven at the very moment of their death'. Contra Dr. Thomas, this is not a description of any doctrine ever held by orthodoxy, which has always maintained the resurrection of the dead as an article of the faith. Rather, this is a description of Platonist belief as taken up by the Gnostics, who regarded the body as a prison to be vacated and thus rejected the idea of resurrection. It is this denial of resurrection that Justin considers offensive, not the idea of the souls of the righteous going somewhere after death until the resurrection. Justin himself believed the latter!  Moreover, while it appears Justin restricted heaven-going to martyrs, it is unlikely that he regarded as heretical those Christians who believed in a heavenly intermediate state for all the righteous, followed by resurrection.21

Conclusion

Christadelphians have, over the past 150 years, frequently used a passage from Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho in their apologetics to prove that the early church repudiated the immortality of the soul and affirmed the resurrection of the dead. However, when this passage is understood in the wider context of Justin's thought, it is clear that his beliefs were much closer to traditional orthodoxy than Christadelphian mortalism. Like all orthodox Christians (and Christadelphians), Justin believed in the resurrection of the dead and repudiated those who did not share this doctrine. However, like most orthodox Christians but unlike Christadelphians, Justin also believed in a conscious intermediate state for the soul between death and resurrection. His only point of apparent disagreement with later orthodoxy concerned the 'geography' of the intermediate state.22

Accordingly, I call on Christadelphian apologists to provide their hearers and readers with a full account of Justin Martyr's beliefs concerning the soul and the afterlife when the subject comes up in their discourse, to avoid giving the impression that Justin's beliefs were proto-Christadelphian in this respect.


Footnotes

  • 1 Horner, Timothy J. (2001). Listening to Trypho: Justin's Dialogue Reconsidered. Leuven: Peeters.
  • 2 He comments on 'the authenticity of Justin's information and its richness of detail' concerning Jewish beliefs about heresy (Boyarin, Daniel (2001). Justin Martyr Invents Judaism. Church History, 70(3), 427-461; here p. 451)
  • 3 Skarsaune, Oskar (2002). In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. He says the second-century Apologists 'think in very Jewish ways and carry on important Jewish concerns vis-à-vis paganism' (In the Shadow of the Temple, p. 231). He also ascribes to Justin a 'remarkably "Jewish" definition of philosophy' and emphasizes that 'in defining Christianity as a "philosophy," in this sense of the word, he is certainly not "Hellenizing" Christianity away from its Jewish roots.' (p. 240) Concerning Justin's biblical arguments for Christ's pre-existent divinity, he says, 'We have every reason to believe that this kind of argument was developed among Judeo-Christians with a knowledge of Hebrew' (p. 273).
  • 4 Horner, op. cit., p. 7.
  • 5 Quotations from the Dialogue with Trypho are taken from Slusser, Michael and Halton, Thomas P. (Ed). (2003). Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho. (Thomas B. Falls, trans.). Washington: Catholic University of America Press.
  • 6 Thomas, John (1855). Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, 5, p. 174; Thomas, John (1857) Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, 7, p. 244; Carter, John (1949). The Faith in the Last Days: A Selection from the Writings of John Thomas. Birmingham: The Christadelphian.
  • 7 Williams, Thomas (1898). The World's Redemption. Chicago: Advocate Publishing House; Williams, Thomas (1898). The Hall-Williams Debate on The Kingdom of Heaven, the State of the Dead, Resurrection and the Punishment of the Wicked. Chicago: Advocate Publishing House, pp. 156-157.
  • 8 Walker, C.C. (1926). A Declaration of the Truth Revealed in the Bible as Distinguishable from the Theology of Christendom. Birmingham: Published by author, pp. 36-37.
  • 9 The material quotes our passage and comments, 'The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is an ancient teaching of pagan religions which was incorporated into a Christianity which was rapidly becoming corrupted. It is a false doctrine which must be rejected.'
  • 10 Roberts, Robert (n.d.) My Days and My Ways: An Autobiography. Sussex: R.J. Acford, p. 44.
  • 11 i.e. believed, like Christadelphians, that the dead are unconscious or do not exist until the resurrection.
  • 12 Dr. Thomas, The Faith in the Last Days.
  • 13 Williams, Hall-Williams Debate, p. 157, emphasis added. This was a debate held between Thomas Williams and the editor of a Baptist periodical, J.N. Hall, in Kentucky in 1898 before an audience of two thousand. Mr. Hall responded as follows: 'Justin Martyr don't say it is not all right to talk about souls being in heaven, but he argues that if you are going to make the presence of souls in heaven destroy the doctrine of the resurrection, and do not believe the resurrection is true, anybody who teaches such a thing would be just like those Justin Martyr warns us against. Justin Martyr did not pretend to say there were no souls in heaven; that is only the conclusion of my brother; that is another "peculiarity" of the Christadelphians. Justin Martyr does not himself take a position against the idea of the existence of departed souls.' (op. cit., p. 162)
  • 14 Dave Burke, profiling Justin Martyr's beliefs on his Christian History Facebook page
  • 15 Burke, Jonathan (2012). Sleeping in the Dust: The Biblical View of Death. Lively Stones Publishing, p. 30, emphasis added.
  • 16 Quotations from Justin's Apologies are taken from Minns, Denis & Parvis, Paul (Eds.) (2009). Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, Apologies. Edited with an Introduction, Translation, and Commentary on the Text. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • 17 Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, Doctrines to be Rejected, No. 8.
  • 18 Various theories have been proposed by scholars on the relationship between Justin's First and Second Apologies. Some regard the Second as an appendix to the first. Minns and Parvis (op. cit.) offer the intriguing hypothesis that the Second Apology consists of unpublished material from the 'cutting-room floor' that Justin's friends published after his martyrdom.
  • 19 Indeed, according to The Acts of Justin,  an account of Justin's martyrdom, this is exactly what Justin believed at the time of his death: 'The prefect said to Justin, "If you are beaten and beheaded, do you believe you are going to ascend into the sky?" Justin said, "I hope for reward for endurance if I endure. For I know that for those who live rightly, the divine gift of grace is waiting until the final conflagration." Rusticus the prefect said, "So you suppose you will ascend?" Justin said, "I do not suppose so, I am certain of it."' (The Acts of Justin, Recension A, trans. Grant, R.M. (2003). Second-century Christianity: A Collection of Fragments (2nd ed.). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 52)
  • 20 This view was expressed explicitly a few decades later by Tertullian (see De Resurrectione Carnis 43; De Anima 55). Two other possibilities are mentioned by Hill, C.E. (1992). Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Future Hope in Early Christianity. Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 20f. These are (a) that Justin didn't have a coherent cosmology of the intermediate state but was an heir of different traditions; (b) that Justin's cosmology of the intermediate state changed over time, with the heaven-going of the Second Apology reflecting a later position than the apparent Hades-going of the Dialogue and First Apology.
  • 21 How could Justin regard the idea of heaven-going as intrinsically heretical when he affirmed it himself, at least for martyrs? In Dialogue 80.1-2, Justin affirms his belief in a future, earthly, millennial kingdom in Jerusalem, but notes 'that there are many pure and pious Christians who do not share our opinion', whom he then distinguishes from the 'godless and impious heretics, whose doctrines are entirely blasphemous, atheistic, and senseless'. Where do the pure and pious but amillennial Christians believe souls go at death? Justin does not say, but Hill, op. cit., argues at length that in the early church, premillennialism (chiliasm) correlated with belief in a subterranean intermediate state while amillennialism (non-chiliasm) correlated with belief in a celestial intermediate state. If he is correct, the amillennial Christians mentioned by Justin probably believed in a celestial intermediate state - and yet were still considered 'pure and pious' by Justin, because unlike the Gnostic heretics they affirmed the resurrection of the body.
  • 22 If Justin's view of the intermediate state matched Tertullian's - i.e. heaven for martyrs and Hades (divided into good and bad compartments) for the rest, then it may be worth noting the similarities between his view and the purgatorial model of the intermediate state that was ultimately defined by the Western church.

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