Justin Martyr’s Trinitarianism

“Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions, if these be worthless. For not only does sound reason direct us to refuse the guidance of those who did or taught anything wrong, but it is incumbent on the lover of truth, by all means, and if death be threatened, even before his own life, to choose to do and say what is right.” (First Apology, Chapter 2)

Second century church father Justin Martyr was a faithful theologian of the early church, known for his apologetical work. Among his surviving works we have two apologies written to the Roman government, in which Christianity is explained and defended, and his Dialogue With Trypho, an apologetical work directed against rabbinical judaism in which Justin proves the validity of Christian doctrine and practice from the Old Testament scriptures, and interacts with the arguments and objections of Judaism.

Justin Martyr was very influential on later church fathers, including Irenaeus of Lyons. His writings, especially due to their genre and early date, serve an as extremely valuable window into the Christianity of the second century church. Unlike polemical or exegetical works, Justin’s apologetical works are aimed at those who do not know what Christianity is; this leads him to give a detailed and ‘from the ground up’ explanation of what Christians are, do, and believe. To have a detailed explanation of early Christianity like this is extremely useful for understanding that era of church history. Additionally, because of the nature of Dialogue With Trypho as an apologetic against Judaism, we are given a detailed and thorough window into how second century Christians read the Old Testament and its predictions of Christ. Certainly, without Justin’s writings our historical understanding of early Christianity would be greatly diminished.

Given what has been said above, it stands to reason that Justin’s works would also give us a good historical picture of what Christians believed about the Trinity in this period. It is noteworthy here that Justin does not speak of his private opinion of what Christians ought to believe, but sets out in his works to explain what Christians at large believe. In rare instances, he notes where there is disagreement among Christians on a given point of doctrine, and which view he believes is correct. For example:

“I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 80)

We ought not then view Justin’s explanations of Christian theology as something peculiar to his own person, but as representative of wider Christian teaching as a whole. Let us then examine his teaching on the Trinity. For our purposes, we will focus on his apologies, and Dialogue With Trypho, as these are the principle works that pertain to the subject.

Firstly, I would like to highlight that Justin frequently speaks of God as “the unbegotten God”. It is clearly an important point in Justin’s understanding of Christian theology that God is uncaused. This title is, of course, only used for the person of the Father. We also see that as Justin understood Christian theology, the “one God” of the Christians was the person of the Father in particular (as scripture also says: “yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” 1 Cor. 8:6 NKJV):

“And thus do we also, since our persuasion by the Word, stand aloof from them (i.e., the demons), and follow the only unbegotten God through His Son — we who formerly delighted in fornication, but now embrace chastity alone; we who formerly used magical arts, dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God” (First Apology, Chapter 14)

“have now, through Jesus Christ, learned to despise these, though we be threatened with death for it, and have dedicated ourselves to the unbegotten and impassible God” (First Apology, Chapter 25)

“But the Gentiles, who had never heard anything about Christ, until the apostles set out from Jerusalem and preached concerning Him, and gave them the prophecies, were filled with joy and faith, and cast away their idols, and dedicated themselves to the Unbegotten God through Christ.” (First Apology, Chapter 49)

“For with what reason should we believe of a crucified man that He is the first-born of the unbegotten God, and Himself will pass judgment on the whole human race, unless we had found testimonies concerning Him published before He came and was born as man…” (First Apology, Chapter 53)

“…take your stand on one Unbegotten, and say that this is the Cause of all.” (Dialogue With trypho, Chapter 5)

“But to the Father of all, who is unbegotten there is no name given. For by whatever name He be called, He has as His elder the person who gives Him the name. But these words Father, and God, and Creator, and Lord, and Master, are not names, but appellations derived from His good deeds and functions. And His Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him, is called Christ, in reference to His being anointed and God’s ordering all things through Him…” (Second Apology, Chapter 6)

“and we have the unbegotten and ineffable God as witness both of our thoughts and deeds.” (Second Apology, Chapter 12)

“For next to God, we worship and love the Word who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God, since also He became man for our sakes, that becoming a partaker of our sufferings, He might also bring us healing.” (Second Apology, Chapter 13)

“And again, when He says, ‘I shall behold the heavens, the works of Your fingers,’ unless I understand His method of using words, I shall not understand intelligently, but just as your teachers suppose, fancying that the Father of all, the unbegotten God, has hands and feet, and fingers, and a soul, like a composite being; and they for this reason teach that it was the Father Himself who appeared to Abraham and to Jacob.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 114)

“For if you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 126)

“These and other such sayings are recorded by the lawgiver and by the prophets; and I suppose that I have stated sufficiently, that wherever God says, ‘God went up from Abraham,’ Genesis 18:22 or, ‘The Lord spoke to Moses,’ Exodus 6:29 and ‘The Lord came down to behold the tower which the sons of men had built,’ Genesis 11:5 or when ‘God shut Noah into the ark,’ Genesis 7:16 you must not imagine that the unbegotten God Himself came down or went up from any place. For the ineffable Father and Lord of all neither has come to any place, nor walks, nor sleeps, nor rises up, but remains in His own place, wherever that is, quick to behold and quick to hear, having neither eyes nor ears, but being of indescribable might; and He sees all things, and knows all things, and none of us escapes His observation; and He is not moved or confined to a spot in the whole world, for He existed before the world was made.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 127)

So then we see that Justin regards the Father as the only God, who is unbegotten, and altogether uncaused. We see Justin clearly believes in one unbegotten, Who is the uncaused Cause of all, and that this is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we examine Justin’s statements about the Son, we see that He regards the Son as begotten of the Father before creation, and as such, as being caused by the Father:

“And that you will not succeed is declared by the Word, than whom, after God who begot Him, we know there is no ruler more kingly and just.” (First Apology, Chapter 12)

“…and (secondly) that Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to His will, He taught us these things for the conversion and restoration of the human race…” (First Apology, Chapter 23)

“For they who are called devils attempt nothing else than to seduce men from God who made them, and from Christ His first-begotten;” (First Apology, Chapter 29)

“The Jews, accordingly, being throughout of opinion that it was the Father of the universe who spoke to Moses, though He who spoke to him was indeed the Son of God, who is called both Angel and Apostle, are justly charged, both by the Spirit of prophecy and by Christ Himself, with knowing neither the Father nor the Son. For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.” (First Apology, Chapter 63)

“And His Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him, is called Christ, in reference to His being anointed and God’s ordering all things through Him” (Second Apology, Chapter 6)

“When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 29)

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word [which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled. The Word of Wisdom, who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, and Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and the Glory of the Begetter, will bear evidence to me, when He speaks by Solomon the following:

If I shall declare to you what happens daily, I shall call to mind events from everlasting, and review them. The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth, and before He had made the deeps, before the springs of the waters had issued forth, before the mountains had been established. Before all the hills He begets me. God made the country, and the desert, and the highest inhabited places under the sky. When He made ready the heavens, I was along with Him, and when He set up His throne on the winds: when He made the high clouds strong, and the springs of the deep safe, when He made the foundations of the earth, I was with Him arranging. I was that in which He rejoiced; daily and at all times I delighted in His countenance, because He delighted in the finishing of the habitable world, and delighted in the sons of men. Now, therefore, O son, hear me. Blessed is the man who shall listen to me, and the mortal who shall keep my ways, watching daily at my doors, observing the posts of my ingoings. For my outgoings are the outgoings of life, and [my] will has been prepared by the Lord. But they who sin against me, trespass against their own souls; and they who hate me love death.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

“But this Offspring, which was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures, and the Father communed with Him; even as the Scripture by Solomon has made clear, that He whom Solomon calls Wisdom, was begotten as a Beginning before all His creatures and as Offspring by God…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 62)

“Accordingly He revealed to us all that we have perceived by His grace out of the Scriptures, so that we know Him to be the first-begotten of God, and to be before all creatures; likewise to be the Son of the patriarchs, since He assumed flesh by the Virgin of their family, and submitted to become a man without comeliness, dishonoured, and subject to suffering.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 100)

“For [Christ] called one of His disciples— previously known by the name of Simon — Peter; since he recognised Him to be Christ the Son of God, by the revelation of His Father: and since we find it recorded in the memoirs of His apostles that He is the Son of God, and since we call Him the Son, we have understood that He proceeded before all creatures from the Father by His power and will…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 100)

For I have already proved that He was the only-begotten of the Father of all things, being begotten in a peculiar manner Word and Power by Him, and having afterwards become man through the Virgin, as we have learned from the memoirs.” (Dialogue With trypho, Chapter 105)

“And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 128)

“You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129)

Stemming from this, Justin teaches that the Son is equal with the Father in respect to His nature, being God, of the same divine nature as the Father, because He is begotten of Him:

“For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.” (First Apology, Chapter 63)

“And now have you not perceived, my friends, that one of the three, who is both God and Lord, and ministers to Him who is in the heavens, is Lord of the two angels? For when [the angels] proceeded to Sodom, He remained behind, and communed with Abraham in the words recorded by Moses; and when He departed after the conversation, Abraham went back to his place. And when he came [to Sodom], the two angels no longer conversed with Lot, but Himself, as the Scripture makes evident; and He is the Lord who received commission from the Lord who [remains] in the heavens, i.e., the Maker of all things, to inflict upon Sodom and Gomorrha the [judgments] which the Scripture describes in these terms: ‘The Lord rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrha sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.'” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 56)

“[Speaking of the Son] He is called God, and He is and shall be God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 58)

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word [which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled. The Word of Wisdom, who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, and Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and the Glory of the Begetter, will bear evidence to me, when He speaks by Solomon the following…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

The above quote is very noteworthy as a very early testimony to the Son’s true divinity, and particularly, that He has the same divine nature as the Father. For the analogies Justin gives, however much they break down, as all analogies do, clearly indicate the exact identicality of nature between the Son and the Father. For just as fire kindled from another fire is of the same nature as the first torch from which it is kindled, and a word spoken which communicates a thought is identical in nature with the inward thought, so these analogies testify with great clarity to the fact that the Son has the same divine nature as the Father.

“And that Christ would act so when He became man was foretold by the mystery of Jacob’s wrestling with Him who appeared to him, in that He ministered to the will of the Father, yet nevertheless is God, in that He is the first-begotten of all creatures.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 125)

“And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 128)

“And now I shall again recite the words which I have spoken in proof of this point. When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129)

We see clearly shown, then, from Justin’s own words, that he, and Christians in general who he represents in these works, held that the Son is truly God, of the same divine nature as the Father, as scripture also teaches.

He also teaches that the Son is under the headship and authority of the Father, and minsters to the will of the Father:

“When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 29)

“I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things— above whom there is no other God — wishes to announce to them.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 56)

“Reverting to the Scriptures, I shall endeavour to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things — numerically, I mean, not [distinct] in will. For I affirm that He has never at any time done anything which He who made the world— above whom there is no other God — has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 56)

“And now have you not perceived, my friends, that one of the three, who is both God and Lord, and ministers to Him who is in the heavens, is Lord of the two angels? For when [the angels] proceeded to Sodom, He remained behind, and communed with Abraham in the words recorded by Moses; and when He departed after the conversation, Abraham went back to his place. And when he came [to Sodom], the two angels no longer conversed with Lot, but Himself, as the Scripture makes evident; and He is the Lord who received commission from the Lord who [remains] in the heavens, i.e., the Maker of all things, to inflict upon Sodom and Gomorrha the [judgments] which the Scripture describes in these terms: ‘The Lord rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrha sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.’” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 56)

“Even if this were so, my friends, that an angel and God were together in the vision seen by Moses, yet, as has already been proved to you by the passages previously quoted, it will not be the Creator of all things that is the God that said to Moses that He was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, but it will be He who has been proved to you to have appeared to Abraham, ministering to the will of the Maker of all things, and likewise carrying into execution His counsel in the judgment of Sodom…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 60)

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will; just as we see happening among ourselves…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

“For I have proved that it was Jesus who appeared to and conversed with Moses, and Abraham, and all the other patriarchs without exception, ministering to the will of the Father; who also, I say, came to be born man by the Virgin Mary, and lives forever.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 113)

“And that Christ would act so when He became man was foretold by the mystery of Jacob’s wrestling with Him who appeared to him, in that He ministered to the will of the Father, yet nevertheless is God, in that He is the first-begotten of all creatures.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 125)

“From which I have demonstrated that He who is described as God appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and the other patriarchs, was appointed under the authority of the Father and Lord, and ministers to His will.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 126)

“Therefore neither Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob, nor any other man, saw the Father and ineffable Lord of all, and also of Christ, but [saw] Him who was according to His will His Son, being God, and the Angel because He ministered to His will...” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 127)

Justin Martyr then is shown from his own words to have taught that Christians believe that there is one God, Who is the supreme uncaused Cause of all, and the Supreme Authority over all, even over His only-begotten Son, Who, as the only-begotten Son of the one God, is of the same divine nature as He. These early Christian beliefs can be shown to be thoroughly in line with what scripture says, and can be proven true from the same; see: Why There is Only One God: One Supreme Cause, Why There is Only One God: Headship, and Why There is Only One God: One Divine Nature.

Finally, we note a few passages where Justin speaks of the whole Trinity together:

“Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judæa, in the times of Tiberius Cæsar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all; for they do not discern the mystery that is herein, to which, as we make it plain to you, we pray you to give heed.” (First Apology, Chapter 13)

“Which things Plato reading, and not accurately understanding, and not apprehending that it was the figure of the cross, but taking it to be a placing crosswise, he said that the power next to the first God was placed crosswise in the universe. And as to his speaking of a third, he did this because he read, as we said above, that which was spoken by Moses, that the Spirit of God moved over the waters. For he gives the second place to the Logos which is with God, who he said was placed crosswise in the universe; and the third place to the Spirit who was said to be borne upon the water, saying, And the third around the third.” (First Apology, Chapter 60)

“There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands.” (First Apology, Chapter 65)

“…we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost.” (First Apology, Chapter 67)

The order of persons in these passages is noteworthy, and reflects what is commonly seen throughout the New Testament.

All in all, Justin’s trinitarianism is shown to be above reproach; he clearly distinguishes between the persons, and he clearly affirms the divinity of the Son. Like many older authors, the Holy Spirit is simply not treated in the same detail, but we see Justin describe how the early church honored Him together with the Father and the Son.

He is clear in affirming monotheism, that is, that there is only one God, and is very clear in describing how this is believed to be so: because the Father is the one supreme uncaused Cause of all, and the one Supreme Authority over all, therefore there is one God, the Father. Although Justin affirms the divinity of the Son and gives analogies which describe the Son as having the same divine nature as the Father, Justin and the early Christians clearly do not ground their belief in one God in the fact that there is one common divine nature shared by the persons of the Trinity. Rather, there is one God because, as we have noted above, the Father is the one supreme uncaused Cause of all, even of His Son and Holy Spirit by eternal generation and procession, respectively, and is the one Supreme Authority and Head over all, even over His only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit.

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