dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label Ebionite. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ebionite. Show all posts

Monday, 1 September 2014

Justin Martyr and the 'Man of Men' Christology (Part 3)

This is the final installment of a three-part series on the 'man of men' Christology mentioned by Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho 48.4. In the first post we looked at the content of this Christology and that it regarded Jesus as the Christ but denied his virgin birth and pre-existent divinity. In the second post we looked at Justin's view toward the proponents of this doctrine. This was more difficult to determine. He has nothing positive to say about them, and describes it as a human doctrine as opposed to the teachings of the prophets and Christ himself. On the other hand he does not use the kind of strong language with which he denounces heresies elsewhere in the Dialogue. This leaves open the possibility that he regarded the proponents of the doctrine as fellow Christians in spite of their error.

We now turn to the third question we posed at the beginning of the series: how did Justin view the age and popularity of the ‘man of men’ Christology relative to his own Christology?

a.      Which does Justin regard as the older belief?

In Dave Burke's talk about second century Christianity (which was the impetus for this series), he tells his audience that "crucially, [Justin] admits that [the man of men Christology] is the older belief, which is very interesting." However, there is simply no evidence to support this claim. Furthermore, there is considerable evidence against it. Right in Dialogue 48.4 we see that Justin regards his own Christology (which affirms pre-existent divinity and the virgin birth) as something which had been taught by the prophets and Christ himself.

Justin Martyr elsewhere refers to the pre-existence of Christ as something "we have been taught" (First Apology 46).1 References to what "we" have been taught are used frequently by Justin to earlier Christian tradition, including even the words of Jesus (First Apology 4; 6; 10; 12; 13; 14; 15; 17; 19; 23; 27; 32; 33; 44; 46; 67; Second Apology 4; Dialogue 18.1; 96.2-3; 118.3; 133.6). It is likely then that Justin has here preserved an earlier tradition (probably dependent on Colossians 1:15 or Hebrews 1:6) which takes πρωτότοκος (first-born) as an indication of Christ's pre-existence.

As to the virgin birth, Justin refers in First Apology 33 to traditional material which is probably dependent on both the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives.

We can also note here that within a generation of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus could assert that the doctrine that the Son of God "became incarnate for our salvation" was part of the faith "received from the apostles and their disciples" (Against Heresies 1.10.1). So the Christians at this time regarded the doctrine of incarnation as a tradition they had received.

There is no indication that Justin regarded himself as an innovator of Christian doctrine. Dave’s statement that Justin admitted the ‘man of men’ Christology is older than his own is without any basis.

b.      Which does Justin regard as the more popular belief?

Dave does not comment on the relative popularity of Justin's Christology versus the 'man of men' Christology. There is, however, an intriguing (albeit difficult) statement which may be an acknowledgment of the popularity of the latter view in Justin's day. The Greek clause in 48.4 following Justin's expression of disagreement with the 'man of men' doctrine (οἷς οὐ συντίθεμαι, οὐδ' ἂν πλεῖστοι ταὐτά μοι δοξάσαντες εἴποιεν) is ambiguous and could be translated in two different ways, expressed by Bobichon as follows:

1) Avis que je ne partage pas avec eux, et ne partagerais pas davantage, quand bien même le plus grand nombre, qui pense comme moi, affirmerait la même chose2
2) Je ne suis pas de leur avis, et un très grand nombre qui pense comme moi ne consentirait pas à le dire.3

Here is an English translation of the above (with thanks to my friend Bernard Kengni for his assistance with the translation):

1) An opinion that I do not share with them, and would never share either, even though the largest number of people who think like me should affirm the same thing.
2) I do not agree with them, and a very large number of people who think like me would not agree to say so.

The matter largely hinges on whether we take οὐδε to mean 'nor' or 'even if', both of which are syntactically possible. Importantly, the syntax ἂν...εἴποιεν can be recognized as a potential optative. This means we have here a fourth class condition, which "indicates a possible condition in the future, usually a remote possibility."4 This suggests that, under either translation, ‘affirm the same thing’ or ‘agree to say so’ is viewed as a future possibility (perhaps an unlikely future possibility) rather than a present reality.

Hence, under the first translation, Justin would seem to be saying that in the event that the majority of Christians adopted this doctrine, he himself would not. Under the second translation, Justin would seem to be saying that the majority of Christians, if presented with this doctrine, would not agree with it. In neither case is Justin making an explicit statement about the present popularity of the ‘man of men’ Christology.

Having said that, if the first translation is correct, one might ask why Justin would concern himself even with the possibility of the ‘man of men’ Christology being the majority view unless it was already very popular. Bobichon comments that the second translation suggests that Justin’s view was more popular. Of the first translation, however, which he prefers, he writes:

“Elle laisse entendre au contraire que cette certitude [que le Christ était Dieu, et préexistant] n'était pas partagée par la majorité des chrétiens” (It suggests instead that this view [that Christ was God, and pre-existent] was not shared by the majority of Christians)5 (my translation)

In support of this reading, Bobichon observes that Justin proceeds to offer a justification for his admittedly ‘paradoxical’ view of Christ’s origin. Paget, on the other hand, suggests that since Justin does not devote much space in the Dialogue to these Jewish Christians (whom he equates with the law-following Christians of chapter 47) they were “very much a minority within the church.”6 He does allow that Justin’s attitude of compromise, “particularly in relation to law-observing gentile Christians, might imply a greater presence.”

Freyne likewise argues that “In Justin’s day, the Gentile Christian movement initiated by Paul had become the dominant force” and the Jewish Christian wing of the movement was in the process of being marginalized.7

I do not find Bobichon’s conclusion persuasive for several reasons. Firstly, as noted above a fourth class condition denotes a future possibility (often a remote one) and not a current reality. Secondly, Bobichon’s interpretation requires us to believe that Justin regarded not only the divinity and pre-existence of Christ but also the virgin birth as minority views in the second century church. However, Justin was very familiar with Matthew's Gospel8 and probably Luke's,9 both of which plainly declare the virgin birth. Justin's quotation concerning the virgin birth from the Gospel traditions in First Apology 33 is probably dependent on both Matthew and Luke. How likely is it that he could imagine the majority of Christians to be in ignorance or rejection of these traditions?

Thirdly, while Justin does offer a justification for his own view (an appeal to Scripture and the teachings of Jesus), he does the same when upholding his own position against opposing views elsewhere (Dialogue 35; 80). This cannot be regarded as evidence for the popularity of the position he opposes.

Fourthly, Justin's assertion that "There are some of your race..." (following the Parisinus manuscript reading as discussed in the previous post) suggests that this belief was limited to some of the Jewish Christians, who were a minority in the church by this time.10

Fifthly, Bobichon’s interpretation is only plausible if his translation of the clause is correct, which is uncertain. He himself acknowledges that both translations are possible. He cites three other scholars who fully agree with him, and another two who agree less completely, on the first translation. He also cites five scholars who favour the second translation.11

In summary, it is possible to interpret Justin as holding the 'man of men' Christology to be the majority view, and there is some scholarly support for such a reading. However, there are also reasons to doubt it and it must be judged at most uncertain, given the ambiguity of the Greek and the hypothetical nature of the fourth class condition.


To conclude, we can set Dave’s interpretation of Dialogue 48.4 in contrast to a balanced view of the matter as follows.

·      Whereas Dave depicts the ‘man of men’ Christology simply as an affirmation of Jesus’ literal flesh-and-blood humanity over against his pre-existent divinity, it in fact entailed rejection or ignorance of the virgin birth, which he does not mention. Moreover, Dave implies that Justin himself denied Jesus’ literal flesh-and-blood mortal humanity, which he did not.
·       Whereas Dave states without qualification that Justin accepted those who held the ‘man of men’ Christology as Christians, Justin in fact expressed sharp disagreement with them and accused them of teaching doctrines of men rather than those of the prophets and of Christ himself. It is difficult to determine whether Justin regarded them as heretical or not.
·       Whereas Dave states without qualification that Justin acknowledges the ‘man of men’ Christology as older than his own, there is in fact no evidence in Justin’s writings to support this. While it is possible that Justin acknowledges the ‘man of men’ Christology as more popular than his own, this is again disputed.

I commend Dave on his efforts to educate young Christadelphians about the history of the patristic church. However, I hope that he will exercise greater objectivity in future lectures than he has shown in his treatment of this particular subject.

1 The specific statement is "We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God", but this is clearly made in contrast to the idea "that Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago" and thus indicates pre-existence.
2 Bobichon, P. (2003). Dialogue avec Tryphon: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction, Vol. 1. Universite de Fribourg, p. 305.
3 Bobichon, P. (2003). Dialogue avec Tryphon: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction, Vol. 2. Universite de Fribourg, p. 718 n. 11.
4 Wallace, D.B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the basics: an exegetical syntax of the New Testament. Zondervan, p. 699; cf. pp. 483-484. For lack of a grammar covering the second century specifically, I assume the function of the optative had not changed in the preceding century.
5 Bobichon, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 718 n. 11.
6 Paget, J.C. (1999). Jewish Christianity. In W.D. Davies et al (Eds.), The Cambridge History of Judaism, Vol. 3 (731-775). Cambridge University Press, p. 750.
7 Freyne, S. (2014). The Jesus Movement and Its Expansion: Meaning and Mission. Eerdmans, p. 339.
8 Skarsaune, O. (1987). The Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr's Proof-text Tradition: Text-type, Provenance, Theological Profile. BRILL, p. 100.
9 Skarsaune, O. op. cit., p. 386; Barnard, L.W. (1967). Justin Martyr: His Life and Thought. Cambridge University Press, p. 63.
10 Bobichon, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 718 n. 11.
11 "By the turn of the [first] century the majority of Roman Christians were probably of Gentile background." (Kesich, V. (2007). Formation and Struggles: The Church, A.D. 33-450, Part 1. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, p. 120. "By the time the deutero-Pauline Ephesians was written, the Jewish community was in the minority and was at risk of being marginalized by a powerful Gentile majority." (Roetzel, C.J. (2003). Paul, a Jew on the Margins. Westminster John Knox Press, p. 87).

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.

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.