dianoigo blog

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Justin Martyr and the 'Man of Men' Christology (Part 2)

We now turn our attention to the second question posed in the previous post:  did Justin Martyr accept those who held the 'man of men' Christology as Christians? More broadly, how did Justin view them? The answer to this question is not obvious. As we shall see, there are radically different viewpoints among scholars. In Dave's talk, he states that Justin "acknowledges these other Christians, and he still accepts them as Christians." There is some evidence to support this statement. However, it should not have been stated as an unqualified fact, since there is also evidence suggesting Justin held a very negative view of this doctrine.

I was able to find a a comment Dave posted on the web (relating to his debate on the Trinity with Evangelical theologian Rob Bowman) which provides the reasoning behind the above-mentioned assertion.

Martyr therefore acknowledges the existence of Christians who do not believe that Christ pre-existed; who believe that he was a “man of men.” Yet he refers to them as “of our race” and “my friends.” So although he disagrees with their Christology, he does not consider them heretics.1

Of the two pieces of evidence Dave adduces here to show that Justin did not regard the man of men Christology as heretical, one is plainly wrong, and the other is doubtful.

a.      ‘My Friends’

Firstly, Dave says that Justin refers to these people as ‘my friends.’ In fact, he does not. ‘My friends’ is a term of direct address for the Jews with whom he is engaging in dialogue: “‘For there are some, my friends,’ I said…” This term of address occurs more than a dozen times throughout the dialogue. In the Greek it is unmistakably a term of direct address: ὦ φίλοι, which would literally translate, 'O friends'.

This expression thus has nothing to do with Justin's view of the man of men Christology.

b.      ‘Of our race’ or ‘of your race’?

The Roberts-Donaldson translation renders the beginning of Dialogue 48.4, "For there are some, my friends," I said, "of our race, who admit that He is Christ, while holding Him to be man of men". Dave infers from the expression "of our race" that Justin regards these people as Christians. However, there is a text-critical issue here. In fact, there are only two extant manuscripts of the Dialogue: the Parisinus (1364 AD), and another written in 1541 AD which is a copy of the Parisinus.3 There is thus only one manuscript which is of value for textual criticism. And the Parisinus does not read ἀπὸ τοῦ ἡμετέρου γένους (‘of our race’), but rather, ἀπὸ τοῦ ὑμετέρου γένους (‘of your race’).4

Machen explains that the ‘of our race’ reading found its way into the early critical texts due to a copying error by the first publisher.5 The error remained uncorrected until discovered by Harnack in the early 20th century, though even before that scholars such as Bull argued on contextual grounds for emending the text to read ‘of your race.’6

The error seems to have died a slow death; as late as 1948, Falls still prefers the reading ‘of our race’ on the basis that “most critics” hold this view.7 At least one critic cited by Bobichon favours emending the text to read ‘of our race.’ However, Bobichon’s recent critical text holds ‘of your race’ to be the original.8

There is no external evidence for the reading ‘of our race,’ and there are no good internal reasons for overturning the manuscript reading. ‘Of your race’ would mean that those who hold the ‘man of men’ Christology are Jewish. Later patristic writers do refer to a Jewish Christian sect called the Ebionites who denied the virgin birth (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.21.1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.27.1-2), so they are the probable referent.9

If, then, Justin was referring to Ebionites, it would not be surprising for him to describe them as “of your race,” that is, Jewish. Indeed, Justin had just previously (Dialogue 47.3) used the expression ‘of your race’ to refer to other Jewish Christians of whom he disapproved because they compelled Gentiles to observe the Law of Moses.

In fact, if the manuscript reading 'of your race' is original, this may actually be evidence that Justin viewed the Ebionites negatively. For there indications elsewhere in the Dialogue that Justin understands non-Christian Jews and Christians to be two separate races. Of the Jews, Justin writes (again, just prior to our passage), “of your race, who are ever unwilling to understand or to perform the [requirements] of God” (Dialogue 48.2). He later states, “God has withheld from you [i.e. the Jewish race] the ability to discern the wisdom of His Scriptures; yet [there are] some exceptions” (Dialogue 55.3).

That Justin views the Christians as a race distinct from natural Jews is evident from Dialogue 116.3: “we, who through the name of Jesus have believed as one man in God the Maker of all…are the true high priestly race of God.” Again,
“As, therefore, Christ is the Israel and the Jacob, even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelitic race…it is necessary for us here to observe that there are two seeds of Judah, and two races, as there are two houses of Jacob: the one begotten by blood and flesh, the other by faith and the Spirit” (Dialogue 135.3-6; see also 119.4-5; 138.2.)
By describing these ‘Ebionites’ as “of your race,” Justin may simply be stating that they are ethnically Jewish. However, he may also be implying that he regards them as belonging to the race of Israel according to the flesh as opposed to the race of Israel by faith and the Spirit (i.e. the Christians).

Hence, the second piece of evidence that Dave cited in support of his view may actually support an opposite conclusion. There is, however, other evidence that may suggest that Justin held a tolerant view of the Ebionites.

c.       The argument for a ‘tolerant’ interpretation

On the same website on which Dave commented, philosophy professor Dale Tuggy added some additional comments on this text:

There are a couple of interesting things here. First, Justin concedes that Jesus can be the Messiah without his being divine or pre-existent – those points are independent of each other, and nothing about being Messiah logically implies being divine or pre-existing. So he insists that his arguments that Jesus is the Jewish messiah will work even if he can’t show Jesus to have pre-existed, or to be anything but a “man of men”, i.e. not Virgin-born, but with two human parents.  Second, Justin seems willing to concede that people who deny his logos theory may yet be Christians – catholic Christians, we assume.2

Dale does not give any reasons for his claim that Justin seems willing to regard the Ebionites as catholic Christians. However, this view has attracted scholarly support for several reasons.

In the first place, Justin does not denounce the proponents of the ‘man of men’ Christology with the same vitriol that is found in his references to heretics elsewhere in the Dialogue. In chapter 35.2-6, Justin refers to schisms and heresies and cites Jesus’ teachings about wolves in sheep’s clothing and false Christs. He describes these false teachers as teaching “both to speak and to act impious and blasphemous things”. He states further that these heretics call themselves Christians, but that they are called by us (the disciples of the true and pure doctrine of Jesus Christ) by the name of the men from whom each doctrine and opinion had its origin. Later, he refers to “godless, impious heretics” who “teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish” (Dialogue 80.3). He goes on to say that of those who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven, “Do not imagine that they are Christians” (80.4).

Justin’s tone in chapter 48 is nowhere near as rancorous. Rather, it is closer to the tone he uses for the Law-observing Christians mentioned in chapter 47 (also referred to as ‘of your race’). There, Trypho asks Justin, “But if someone, knowing that this is so, after he recognises that this man is Christ, and has believed in and obeys Him, wishes, however, to observe these [Mosaic rites], will he be saved?” (Dialogue 47.1) Justin responds,

"In my opinion, Trypho, such an one will be saved, if he does not strive in every way to persuade other men – I mean those Gentiles who have been circumcised from error by Christ, to observe the same things as himself, telling them that they will not be saved unless they do so." (Dialogue 47.1)

Trypho then asks whether there are those who hold such a position. Justin responds that there are, “but I do not agree with them” (47.2). He groups them into three classes.

i.             There are those ‘weak-minded’ Jews who wish to observe Mosaic institutions along with their hope in Christ; however they do not compel other Christians to do the same. Justin states, “I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such, and associate with them in all things as kinsmen and brethren” (47.2).
ii.                   There are some Jews who “say they believe in Christ” but “compel those Gentiles who believe in this Christ to live in all respects according to the law given by Moses.” Justin does "not approve of them" (47.3).
iii.                 Those Gentiles who are persuaded by the second group above “to observe the legal dispensation along with their confession of God in Christ, shall probably be saved”, provided they maintain their confession that Jesus is the Christ (47.4).

It can probably be inferred from the above that Justin thinks the first and third groups above will be saved, but not the second group – those who compel Gentile Christians to observe the Law. In simply stating that he “does not agree” with these Jewish Christians Justin’s tone is close to that of 48.4. It may be, then, that his view of the 'man of men' Christology issue was similar to his view of the law observance issue.

Secondly, it is possible (as will be discussed in the final post in this series) to understand ‘those who have the same opinions as myself’ in 48.4 to refer to all those who believe Jesus is the Christ, inclusive of Ebionites. This would then implicitly classify them as Christians, albeit not necessarily catholic Christians. Hence Bobichon notes,

“Il ne s’agit pas seulement des chrétiens orthodoxes, mais de tous ceux qui reconnaissent le Christ en Jésus et portent le nom de Chrétiens (MARAN)”10

That is, ‘It refers not only to orthodox Christians, but to all those who recognize Jesus as Christ and bear the name of Christians.’ (my translation)

Thirdly, Tuggy observes that Justin concedes Jesus can be the Messiah without his being pre-existent or divine, which he takes to imply that Jesus' pre-existence and divinity are for Justin non-essential points of doctrine.

In spite of the above, an argument can also be made that Justin does not accept the proponents of the ‘man of men’ Christology as catholic Christians.

d.      The argument for a ‘heretical’ interpretation

Firstly, while (as noted above) his criticism of this group is not as vitriolic as his denunciation of heretics in chapters 35 and 80, his description of the source of their doctrine is similar:

Source of wrong belief
Source of correct belief
Dialogue 35 (heretical Christians)
The spirits of error; doctrines which originated from men
The doctrines of Jesus; the words he taught; the prophecies announced concerning him
Dialogue 27 (unbelieving Jews)
Teaching doctrines that are your own
Doctrines that are His (God’s)
Dialogue 38 (unbelieving Jews)
The traditions of [Jewish] teachers who teach their own doctrines
Truths taught by God
Dialogue 78 (unbelieving Jews)
Strive in every way to maintain their own doctrines; teach the doctrines of men
The doctrines of God
Dialogue 80 (heretical Christians)
Men’s doctrines
God and the doctrines delivered by Him; the prophets declare it
Dialogue 48 (‘man of men’ Christology)
Human doctrines
The prophets; the teachings of Jesus himself

Like the heretics of chapters 35 and 80 and the unbelieving Jews of chapters 27, 38 and 78, the proponents of the ‘man of men’ Christology in 48.4 stand accused of putting their faith in human doctrines rather than “those proclaimed by the blessed prophets and taught by [Jesus] Himself.”11 The accusation of following human doctrines instead of the teachings of the prophets and Jesus is a very serious one, probably drawn from Isaiah 29:13 via Matthew 15:9. Every other viewpoint described in these terms in the Dialogue is clearly regarded as a threat to salvation.

Secondly, in the only other place in Justin’s writings where he refers to a denial of Christ’s pre-existence (First Apology 46), he states that if someone were to maintain “that we say that Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago”, this would be “a perversion of what we teach.”12

Thirdly, Justin’s ‘concession’ about Jesus’ Messiahship being provable apart from the virgin birth and pre-existence should probably be understood as a rhetorical technique rather than an concession of uncertainty. Inducing Trypho to admit that Jesus is the merely human Christ is a rhetorical stepping-stone to his argument for this Christ's pre-existence and incarnation. Far from ‘nothing about being Messiah logically implies being divine or pre-existing’ (as Tuggy claims), Justin's argument may well presuppose the opposite. If he can only persuade Trypho that Jesus is the Messiah, he will then be able to persuade him that this Messiah is pre-existent and virgin-born. Hence, Justin’s ‘concession’ here does not imply that he regarded a ‘man of men’ Christology as sufficient.

In support of this, we note that later in the Dialogue, Trypho concedes the existence of a second being called God (Dialogue 60.3).13 He is also willing to concede that Jesus as a ‘man of men’ might have become the Christ by election (Dialogue 67.1). However, he continues to challenge the virgin birth and incarnation (Dialogue 63.1; 67.1), as well as the crucifixion and ascension. Justin shows no hint of being satisfied with Trypho's concessions but instead redoubles his efforts to prove the virgin birth and pre-existent deity of Christ from the Scriptures.

Fourthly, later Christian writers regarded the Ebionites (who seem to have held the Christology described in Dialogue 48.4) as heretics. These include Irenaeus, who wrote within a generation of Justin, and probably used Justin’s lost work on heresies, Syntagma, as a source.14

e.      Scholarly views

What do scholars say? There is a range of views. Segal states that Justin “strongly disagrees with Christians who held this adoptionist christology.”15

Pritz comments on Dialogue 48.4 that

“This strongly worded statement should be contrasted with the tolerance of the previous ones” (of chapter 47). In his view, Justin “recognizes two kinds of Christians of the Jewish race whom he differentiates on christological grounds. One group, whom Justin condemns [chapter 48], holds doctrines which line up well with what is known to us of Ebionite teaching. The other group [chapter 47] differs from Justin’s orthodoxy only in its continued adherence to the Mosaic Law.”16

On the other hand, Hakkinen argues that

“Justin did not consider Jewish Christians to be heretics, even though they obeyed the Torah and practiced circumcision (46-47), and confessed Jesus to be the Messiah without believing in his divine origins (48)…For Justin, they were an acceptable part of Christianity as long as they did not demand that Gentile Christians become Jews.”17

Paget states that

“Justin does not seem to regard Ebionite-like people as heretical, a conclusion based upon Dialogue 47-48 where Jewish Christians are mentioned together with christological opinions akin to those of the Ebionites but are not held to be outside the church.”18

On the other hand, Paget suggests that Justin’s lost work Syntagma might well have held Ebionite-like people to be heretical due to their “errant christological views.”

In light of the evidence and the scholarly debate, perhaps a balanced conclusion would be that Justin views those who hold the ‘man of men’ Christology with considerable suspicion, but has not made up his mind as to whether or not it is heretical. He refrains from calling them Christians or brethren, and describes their doctrines in language he uses elsewhere only for heretics and non-Christian Jews. On the other hand, he also refrains from calling them heretics or blasphemers and does not deny that they are Christians. Since his tone of ‘not agreeing with them’ is similar to that in chapter 47, it may be that, like the law-observing Jewish Christians of chapter 47, he thought that they might be saved under certain conditions.

In our third and final post in this series we will look at what Justin says about the age and popularity of the man of men Christology.

1 See http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1704/comment-page-1
2 See http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1981
3 Koester, H. (2002). Introduction to the New Testament, Volume 2. Walter de Gruyter, p. 344.
4 Lincoln, A.T. (2013). Born of a Virgin? Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition, and Theology. Eerdmans. p. 170 n. 3.
5 Machen, J.G. (1932). The Virgin Birth of Christ. James Clarke & Co., p. 16 n. 50.
6 Bull, G. (1855). The Judgment of the Catholic Church on the Necessity of Believing that Our Lord Jesus Christ is Very God. J.H. Parker, p. 172.
7 Falls, T.B. (1948). The First Apology; the Second Apology; Dialogue with Trypho; Exhortation to the Greeks. Christian Heritage Incorporated, p. 220 n. 2.
8 Bobichon, P. (2003). Dialogue avec Tryphon: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction, Vol. 1. Universite de Fribourg, pp. 304-305; Bobichon, P. (2003). Dialogue avec Tryphon: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction, Vol. 2. Universite de Fribourg, pp. 717-718 n. 9.
9 So Pritz, R. (1988). Nazarene Jewish Christianity. BRILL, p. 19ff; Paget, J.C. (2010). Jews, Christians and Jewish Christians in Antiquity. Mohr Siebeck, p. 327; Freyne, S. 2014. The Jesus Movement and Its Expansion: Meaning and Mission. Eerdmans, p. 339. Hengel would also include Cerinthus as a possible referent along with the Ebionites (Hengel, M. (1992). The Septuagint as a Collection of Writings Claimed by Christians: Justin and the Church Fathers before Origen. In J.D.G. Dunn (Ed.), Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135 (39-84). Eerdmans, p. 52 n. 55).
10 Bobichon, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 717 n. 10.
11 Inasmuch as Justin in Dialogue 18 refers to Trypho having “read” the doctrines taught by Jesus, we probably have here a reference to the Old Testament and at least some of the Gospels.
12 In context, he is not here discussing different Christologies among professing Christians, but rather is responding to the charge that Christianity is a recent development and that those born before Christ would thus in effect have been atheists. (Of course, Justin means ‘born’ here in the sense of coming into existence, since he does go on to affirm that Christ was born of a virgin as a man). This language shows that Justin viewed the pre-existence of Christ as an important aspect of his worldview.
13 Choi, M.J. (2010). What is Christian orthodoxy according to Justin’s Dialogue? Scottish Journal of Theology 63(4): 398-413. p. 406.
14 Myllykoski, M. 2008. Cerinthus. In A. Marjanen & P. Luomanen (Eds.), A Companion to Second-Century Christian ‘Heretics’ (213-246). BRILL, p. 227.
15 Segal, A.F. 1992. Jewish Christianity, In H.W. Attridge and G. Hata (Eds.), Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism. Wayne State University Press, pp. 340-341.
16 Pritz, op. cit., p. 21.
17 Hakkinen, S. (2008). Ebionites. In A. Marjanen & P. Luomanen (Eds.), A Companion to Second-Century Christian ‘Heretics’ (247-278). BRILL, p. 249. Hakkinen suggests that Justin’s work on heresies, Syntagma, did not originally include the Ebionites, but had been updated by Irenaeus’ time to include them (op. cit., pp. 250-251).
18 Paget, op. cit., p. 327.


Dave Burke said...

There were two groups of Ebionites. One group denied the virgin birth; the other accepted it.

--'Origen himself confirms much of what Irenaeus records, and provides us with some additional information.

So, for instance, he notes that they [Ebionites] celebrate Easter on the same day as the Jews and eat unleavened bread (in Matt. comm. ser. 79), and, interestingly, he affirms that there were two types of Ebionites, those who believed in the virgin birth, and those who did not (c. Cels. 5.61), a point repeated by Eusebius (HE 3.27.2-3), who is probably reliant on Origen and others.'

William Horbury, The Cambridge History of Judaism 2 Part Set: Volume 3, The Early Roman Period (Cambridge University Press, 1999), 758.

This means that if Justin is referring to the Ebionites (which is likely, I grant) we have no need to assume he is referring specifically to those who denied the virgin birth.

Tom said...

We indeed have no need to assume that he is referring specifically to those who denied the virgin birth. Rather, we can deduce this from the expression 'man of men', both from its straightforward literal meaning, and the way it is used elsewhere in the Dialogue. See the previous post and comments underneath it.