Justin Martyr and the Two Books, Part 2

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November 15, 2012 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now

Today's entry was written by Mark H. Mann. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Justin Martyr and the Two Books, Part 2

As I discussed in the first two posts in this series, tracing the history of Two Books Theology means understanding how Christian theologians from the very beginnings of the Church have understood God’s self-revelation, as well as the relationship between Scripture and Creation. Therefore, we began with 2nd-century Church Father Justin Martyr, who affirmed that what we now call the Old and the New Testaments were both part a single witness to God the Creator and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Against his contemporary Marcion (who said that the Israelite God was altogether different from the God of Jesus), and the Gnostics (who thought the material world was either evil or filled with ignorance), Justin argued that the Father of Jesus was the very God who had created the earth and had called everything in it good.

While we might take such statement on the continuity of the Biblical witness for granted, the fact that the validity of the Jewish Scriptures was so hotly contested should give the reader a sense of the many theological challenges that Early Christians faced. One of the most complex of these challenges was determining how to affirm that there is only One God and, at the same time, that Jesus Christ is divine. Various models were proposed in the centuries leading up the Church councils at Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381) that would settle this question once and for all for the Christian Church, establishing the particular Trinitarian formula we find outlined in what we typically refer to as the Nicene Creed. But, in Justin’s time, no such definitive statement existed, and his solution would be one of the most important contributions to the discussion.

Jesus Christ, the Logos of God

Drawing from the Greek philosophy of his pre-Christian studies (especially Platonism and Stoicism) and perhaps also from the not-yet canonized gospel of John, Justin proposed that Jesus Christ is the personal embodiment of the “divine logos.” The Greek term “logos” (typically translated as “word” in English) has a rich history in Greek philosophy. For Stoics, the logos was understood to be the presence of divine rationality in the material universe that both animates it and gives it the particular order that we observe. For Platonists at the time of Justin (often referred to as Middle Platonism1), the logos was conceived of as a kind of intermediary between God and the world. According to Middle Platonism, God is a purely self-sufficient, impassable, and transcendently spiritual reality and is therefore neither concerned with nor involved in the material world. The logos, then, was that ordering principle emanating from God which formed the world as we know it out of formless matter, or chaos. It was both God and not-God at the same time—a kind of extension of the fullness of God into the material world that exerted God’s divine power and influence within the world, while also maintaining God’s fundamental transcendence over and distance from the world.

These are exactly the kinds of claims that Justin made in calling Jesus Christ the “Logos of God.” With Stoicism, Justin would speak of Christ as the presence of divine rationality in the physical creation gave it both its life and its order. With Platonism, Justin spoke of Christ as a fully divine intermediary between God the Father and the material world that is neither fully equated with nor fully distinct from the Father.2 This is what we mean when we speak of Justin as affirming a "logos Christology": God the Father had spoken the entire universe into being through the Divine Logos, which became incarnate as Jesus Christ. That is, Jesus Christ is both fully divine and yet not to be equated with God the Father. Instead, he is the eternally generated Son and Logos through whom God the Father interacts with Creation.

Of course, Justin could point to a biblical basis for drawing such conclusions about the identification of Christ with the Divine Logos and the pivotal role of Christ in creation. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint and used by most early Christians as they generally could not read Hebrew), the verb form of logos is used to denote God "speaking" the world into being in Gen 1. Recall also that the Gospel of John begins with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made…” The Greek term for "word" used in John's prologue is in fact "logos."

One final and vitally important point regarding Justin should be made: he affirmed the doctrine of the logoi spermatakoi, variously translated as “seeds of truth” or “rational principles.” According to this doctrine, the germinal seeds of the Divine Logos are scattered through the entire cosmos, and give rise to the particular form and order of the universe. Justin gave this doctrine a particularly Christian twist by identifying the logoi spermatokoi with the truth and presence of Jesus Christ, which he understood to be evident everywhere in the cosmos. In all times and places, those with eyes to see can find evidence of the handiwork of God in Christ, for it is in Christ that God has made all things to be what they are. It is for this reason that Justin could speak of Christianity as the true philosophy, and of other philosophical traditions as holding partial truths that ultimately lead to Christ.

Conclusion

For Justin Martyr, the first great Christian theologian of the post-apostolic era, Jesus Christ is the Word of God, witnessed to in Scripture and manifest throughout all of Creation as the source of its life and order. Although Justin did not explicitly affirm that Scripture and Nature are two “books,” it is clear that his logos Christology provides a strong basis for considering the study of Scripture and Creation as, in the end, a singular enterprise, for both bear witness to the Logos of God, Jesus Christ. Especially considering his doctrine of the logoi spermatokoi, it is difficult to imagine him having the anti-scientific attitude that is unfortunately so prevalent among many Christians today, or to imagine him accepting the idea that the Creation could ever produce evidence against the existence of its Creator. Next time, we’ll see that many of these themes would also play out in the theology of one of Justin’s disciples—Irenaeus of Lyons.

Notes

1. The modifier "middle" is to distinguish this variety of Platonic thinking from the teachings of Plato ("classic" Platonism) and those of Plotinus ("Neo" Platonism) and denotes the fact that these ideas were popular in the period between that of Plato (5th-4th cent. BCE) and Plotinus (3rd cent. CE).

2. Admittedly, to speak of a clear distinction between Stoicism and Platonism at the time of Justin is somewhat artificial, for that which scholars call "Middle" Platonism is a complex and varied amalgam of the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and others.


Mark H. Mann is the director of the Wesleyan Center, Point Loma Press, and Honors Program at Point Loma Nazarene University. Mark received his bachelor's degree from Eastern Nazarene College and went on to earn both an M.Div. and a Ph.D. in Religious and Theological Studies (2004) from Boston University. Mann previously served at Colgate University where he was both chaplain and professor. Mann has previous experience in editing, student development and staff ministry at the local church level.

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Jw Farquhar - #74432

November 15th 2012

Mark,

You wrote in Part 1: Christians should think of Scripture and Creation as two “books” that should be read together for understanding the fullness of God’s self-revelation; 

At first I thought this was a typo, since my definition of Creation is the scripture in Genesis 1, and that you meant to separate scripture in the Creation from the rest of Scripture as two books. But then in part 2 you defined two books to be: Scripture and Nature are two “books”. I understand now that your use of the word Creation means a physical creation of the world and life on it. As I understand it then, your main points on church fathers will be how each contributes to two books; the Bible and science. 

My understanding of the Creation is that it is a spiritual message from God, rather than a physical creation of the world. This results in an alternate view to yours. I hope you don’t mind my sharing of God’s self-revelation of His God-breathed numbers from the Creation that perfectly bind science to scripture into a “one book” view.


HornSpiel - #74450

November 16th 2012

Jw,

For an introduction to the “Two Books” idea as discussed on this site check this out:

biologos.org/questions/scientific-and-scriptural-truth.

I hope you find these ideas stimulating.

—HornSpiel


Jw Farquhar - #74455

November 16th 2012

HornSpiel

Thanks for the help. It is very good article supporting a two book theme and interpretation as the main problem. It admits the conflict is at the human level, rather than God, as a misunderstanding of either scripture or nature. I agree emphatically with this and now see the source of this two-book theme.

Actually I think there are three books, since there are three realms; material, spiritual, and time. I have found that this is how scripture is ordered.

Although I am a non-traditional Christian with a big interpretation gap between us, my main purpose for hanging around is to learn about the Church Fathers so that I can relate better to tradition-loving Christians. Perhaps there is something in the past I can leverage, such as Irenaous’ 4-way God revealed in his “Against Heresies” manifesto.


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