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The First Apology | Justin Martyr | 4

46. The Word in the world before Christ

But lest some should, without reason, and for the perversion of what we teach, maintain that we say that Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago under Cyrenius, and subsequently, in the time of Pontius Pilate, taught what we say He taught;

and should cry out against us as though all men who were born before Him were irresponsible — let us anticipate and solve the difficulty.

We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers;

and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them;

and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we know it would be tedious.

So that even they who lived before Christ, and lived without reason, were wicked and hostile to Christ, and slew those who lived reasonably.

But who, through the power of the Word, according to the will of God the Father and Lord of all, He was born of a virgin as a man, and was named Jesus, and was crucified, and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, an intelligent man will be able to comprehend from what has been already so largely said.

And we, since the proof of this subject is less needful now, will pass for the present to the proof of those things which are urgent.

47. Desolation of Judæa foretold

That the land of the Jews, then, was to be laid waste, hear what was said by the Spirit of prophecy. And the words were spoken as if from the person of the people wondering at what had happened. They are these:

"Sion is a wilderness, Jerusalem is desolation. The house of our sanctuary has become a curse, and the glory which our fathers blessed is burned up with fire, and all its glorious things are laid waste: and You refrain Yourself at these things, and have held Your peace, and have humbled us very sore." Isaiah 64:10-12

And you are convinced that Jerusalem has been laid waste, as was predicted.

And concerning its desolation, and that no one should be permitted to inhabit it, there was the following prophecy by Isaiah: "Their land is desolate, their enemies consume it before them, and none of them shall dwell therein." Isaiah 1:7

And that it is guarded by you lest anyone dwells in it, and that death is decreed against a Jew apprehended entering it, you know very well.

48. Christ's work and death foretold

And that it was predicted that our Christ should heal all diseases and raise the dead, hear what was said. There are these words:

"At His coming the lame shall leap as an hart, and the tongue of the stammerer shall be clear speaking: the blind shall see, and the lepers shall be cleansed; and the dead shall rise, and walk about." Isaiah 35:6

And that He did those things, you can learn from the Acts of Pontius Pilate. And how it was predicted by the Spirit of prophecy that He and those who hoped in Him should be slain, hear what was said by Isaiah. These are the words:

 "Behold now the righteous perishes, and no man lays it to heart; and just men are taken away, and no man considers. From the presence of wickedness is the righteous man taken, and his burial shall be in peace: he is taken from our midst." Isaiah 57:1

49. His rejection by the Jews foretold

And again, how it was said by the same Isaiah, that the Gentile nations who were not looking for Him should worship Him, but the Jews who always expected Him should not recognise Him when He came.

And the words are spoken as from the person of Christ; and they are these:

"I was manifest to them that asked not for Me; I was found of them that sought Me not: I said, Behold Me, to a nation that called not on My name.

I spread out My hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people, to those who walked in a way that is not good, but follow after their own sins; a people that provokes Me to anger to My face." Isaiah 65:1-3

For the Jews having the prophecies, and being always in expectation of the Christ to come, did not recognise Him; and not only so, but even treated Him shamefully.

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.

And that it was foreknown that these infamous things should be uttered against those who confessed Christ, and that those who slandered Him, and said that it was well to preserve the ancient customs, should be miserable, hear what was briefly said by Isaiah; it is this:

"Woe unto them that call sweet bitter, and bitter sweet." Isaiah 5:20

50. His humiliation predicted

But that, having become man for our sakes, He endured to suffer and to be dishonoured, and that He shall come again with glory, hear the prophecies which relate to this; they are these:

"Because they delivered His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, He has borne the sin of many, and shall make intercession for the transgressors.

For, behold, My Servant shall deal prudently, and shall be exalted, and shall be greatly extolled.

As many were astonished at You, so marred shall Your form be before men, and so hidden from them Your glory; so shall many nations wonder, and the kings shall shut their mouths at Him. For they to whom it was not told concerning Him, and they who have not heard, shall understand.

O Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? We have declared before Him as a child, as a root in a dry ground.

He had no form, nor glory; and we saw Him, and there was no form nor comeliness: but His form was dishonoured and marred more than the sons of men.

A man under the stroke, and knowing how to bear infirmity, because His face was turned away: He was despised, and of no reputation. It is He who bears our sins, and is afflicted for us; yet we did esteem Him smitten, stricken, and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of peace was upon Him, by His stripes we are healed.

All we, like sheep, have gone astray; every man has wandered in his own way. And He delivered Him for our sins; and He opened not His mouth for all His affliction.

He was brought as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before his shearer is dumb, so He opens not His mouth. In His humiliation, His judgment was taken away." Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53:1-8

Accordingly, after He was crucified, even all His acquaintances forsook Him, having denied Him;

and afterwards, when He had risen from the dead and appeared to them, and had taught them to read the prophecies in which all these things were foretold as coming to pass,

and when they had seen Him ascending into heaven, and had believed, and had received power sent thence by Him upon them, and went to every race of men, they taught these things, and were called apostles.

51. The majesty of Christ

And that the Spirit of prophecy might signify to us that He who suffers these things has an ineffable origin, and rules His enemies, He spoke thus:

"His generation who shall declare? Because His life is cut off from the earth: for their transgressions He comes to death. And I will give the wicked for His burial, and the rich for His death; because He did no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth.

And the Lord is pleased to cleanse Him from the stripe. If He be given for sin, your soul shall see His seed prolonged in days.

And the Lord is pleased to deliver His soul from grief, to show Him light, and to form Him with knowledge, to justify the righteous who richly serves many. And He shall bear our iniquities.

Therefore He shall inherit many, and He shall divide the spoil of the strong; because His soul was delivered to death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bore the sins of many, and He was delivered up for their transgressions." Isaiah 53:8-12

Hear, too, how He was to ascend into heaven according to prophecy. It was thus spoken:

"Lift up the gates of heaven; be opened, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty."

And how also He should come again out of heaven with glory, hear what was spoken in reference to this by the prophet Jeremiah. His words are: "Behold, as the Son of man He comes in the clouds of heaven, and His angels with Him." Daniel 7:13

52. Certain fulfilment of prophecy

Since, then, we prove that all things which have already happened had been predicted by the prophets before they came to pass, we must necessarily believe also that those things which are in like manner predicted, but are yet to come to pass, shall certainly happen.

For as the things which have already taken place came to pass when foretold, and even though unknown, so shall the things that remain, even though they be unknown and disbelieved, yet come to pass.

For the prophets have proclaimed two advents of His: the one, that which is already past, when He came as a dishonoured and suffering Man;

but the second, when, according to prophecy, He shall come from heaven with glory, accompanied by His angelic host,

when also He shall raise the bodies of all men who have lived, and shall clothe those of the worthy with immortality, and shall send those of the wicked, endued with eternal sensibility, into everlasting fire with the wicked devils.

And that these things also have been foretold as yet to be, we will prove.

By Ezekiel the prophet it was said:

"Joint shall be joined to joint, and bone to bone, and flesh shall grow again; and every knee shall bow to the Lord, and every tongue shall confess Him." Ezekiel 37:7-8; Isaiah 45:24

And in what kind of sensation and punishment the wicked are to be, hear from what was said in like manner with reference to this; it is as follows:

"Their worm shall not rest, and their fire shall not be quenched;" Isaiah 66:24 and then shall they repent, when it profits them not.

And what the people of the Jews shall say and do, when they see Him coming in glory, has been thus predicted by Zechariah the prophet:

"I will command the four winds to gather the scattered children; I will command the north wind to bring them, and the south wind, that it keep not back.

And then in Jerusalem there shall be great lamentation, not the lamentation of mouths or of lips, but the lamentation of the heart; and they shall rend not their garments, but their hearts.

Tribe by tribe they shall mourn, and then they shall look on Him whom they have pierced; and they shall say, Why, O Lord, have You made us to err from Your way? The glory which our fathers blessed, has for us been turned into shame."

53. Summary of the prophecies

Though we could bring forward many other prophecies, we forbear, judging these sufficient for the persuasion of those who have ears to hear and understand;

and considering also that those persons are able to see that we do not make mere assertions without being able to produce proof, like those fables that are told of the so-called sons of Jupiter.

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, and unless we saw that things had happened accordingly—

the devastation of the land of the Jews, and men of every race persuaded by His teaching through the apostles, and rejecting their old habits, in which, being deceived, they had their conversation;

yea, seeing ourselves too, and knowing that the Christians from among the Gentiles are both more numerous and more true than those from among the Jews and Samaritans?

For all the other human races are called Gentiles by the Spirit of prophecy; but the Jewish and Samaritan races are called the tribe of Israel, and the house of Jacob.

And the prophecy in which it was predicted that there should be more believers from the Gentiles than from the Jews and Samaritans, we will produce: it ran thus:

"Rejoice, O barren, you that do not bear; break forth and shout, you that do not travail, because many more are the children of the desolate than of her that has a husband." Isaiah 54:1

For all the Gentiles were "desolate" of the true God, serving the works of their hands;

but the Jews and Samaritans, having the word of God delivered to them by the prophets, and always expecting the Christ, did not recognise Him when He came, except some few, of whom the Spirit of prophecy by Isaiah had predicted that they should be saved.

He spoke as from their person: "Unless the Lord had left us a seed, we should have been as Sodom and Gomorrha." Isaiah 1:9

For Sodom and Gomorrha are related by Moses to have been cities of ungodly men, which God burned with fire and brimstone, and overthrew,

no one of their inhabitants being saved except a certain stranger, a Chaldæan by birth, whose name was Lot; with whom also his daughters were rescued.

And those who care may yet see their whole country desolate and burned, and remaining barren.

And to show how those from among the Gentiles were foretold as more true and more believing, we will cite what was said by Isaiah the prophet; for he spoke as follows: "Israel is uncircumcised in heart, but the Gentiles are uncircumcised in the flesh."

So many things therefore, as these, when they are seen with the eye, are enough to produce conviction and belief in those who embrace the truth, and are not bigoted in their opinions, nor are governed by their passions.

54. Origin of heathen mythology

But those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race.

For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire,

they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvellous tales, like the things which were said by the poets.

And these things were said both among the Greeks and among all nations where they [the demons] heard the prophets foretelling that Christ would specially be believed in;

but that in hearing what was said by the prophets they did not accurately understand it, but imitated what was said of our Christ, like men who are in error, we will make plain.

The prophet Moses, then, was, as we have already said, older than all writers; and by him, as we have also said before, it was thus predicted:

"There shall not fail a prince from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until He come for whom it is reserved; and He shall be the desire of the Gentiles, binding His foal to the vine, washing His robe in the blood of the grape." Genesis 49:10

The devils, accordingly, when they heard these prophetic words, said that Bacchus was the son of Jupiter, and gave out that he was the discoverer of the vine,

and they number wine [or, the ass] among his mysteries; and they taught that, having been torn in pieces, he ascended into heaven.

And because in the prophecy of Moses it had not been expressly intimated whether He who was to come was the Son of God, and whether He would, riding on the foal, remain on earth or ascend into heaven, and because the name of "foal" could mean either the foal of an ass or the foal of a horse,

they, not knowing whether He who was foretold would bring the foal of an ass or of a horse as the sign of His coming, nor whether He was the Son of God, as we said above, or of man,

gave out that Bellerophon, a man born of man, himself ascended to heaven on his horse Pegasus.

And when they heard it said by the other prophet Isaiah that He should be born of a virgin and by His own means ascend into heaven, they pretended that Perseus was spoken of.

And when they knew what was said, as has been cited above, in the prophecies written aforetime, "Strong as a giant to run his course," they said that Hercules was strong, and had journeyed over the whole earth.

And when, again, they learned that it had been foretold that He should heal every sickness, and raise the dead, they produced Æsculapius.

55. Symbols of the cross

But in no instance, not even in any of those called sons of Jupiter, did they imitate the being crucified; for it was not understood by them, all the things said of it having been put symbolically.

And this, as the prophet foretold, is the greatest symbol of His power and role; as is also proved by the things which fall under our observation. For consider all the things in the world, whether without this form they could be administered or have any community.

For the sea is not traversed except that trophy which is called a sail abide safe in the ship; and the earth is not ploughed without it: diggers and mechanics do not their work, except with tools which have this shape.

And the human form differs from that of the irrational animals in nothing else than in its being erect and having the hands extended, and having on the face extending from the forehead what is called the nose, through which there is respiration for the living creature; and this shows no other form than that of the cross.

And so it was said by the prophet, "The breath before our face is the Lord Christ."

And the power of this form is shown by your own symbols on what are called "vexilla" [banners] and trophies, with which all your state possessions are made, using these as the insignia of your power and government, even though you do so unwittingly.

And with this form you consecrate the images of your emperors when they die, and you name them gods by inscriptions.

Since, therefore, we have urged you both by reason and by an evident form, and to the utmost of our ability, we know that now we are blameless even though you disbelieve; for our part is done and finished.

56. The demons still mislead men

But the evil spirits were not satisfied with saying, before Christ's appearance that those who were said to be sons of Jupiter were born of him;

but after He had appeared, and been born among men, and when they learned how He had been foretold by the prophets, and knew that He should be believed on and looked for by every nation,

they again, as was said above, put forward other men, the Samaritans Simon and Menander, who did many mighty works by magic, and deceived many, and still keep them deceived.

For even among yourselves, as we said before, Simon was in the royal city Rome in the reign of Claudius Cesar, and so greatly astonished the sacred senate and people of the Romans, that he was considered a god, and honoured, like the others whom you honour as gods, with a statue.

Wherefore we pray that the sacred senate and your people may, along with yourselves, be arbiters of this our memorial,

in order that if anyone be entangled by that man's doctrines, he may learn the truth, and so be able to escape error; and as for the statue, if you please, destroy it.

57. And cause persecution

Nor can the devils persuade men that there will be no conflagration for the punishment of the wicked; as they were unable to effect that Christ should be hidden after He came.

But this only can they effect, that they who live irrationally, and were brought up licentiously in wicked customs, and are prejudiced in their own opinions, should kill and hate us; whom we not only do not hate, but, as is proved, pity and endeavour to lead to repentance.

For we do not fear death, since it is acknowledged we must surely die; and there is nothing new, but all things continue the same in this administration of things;

and if satiety overtakes those who enjoy even one year of these things, they ought to give heed to our doctrines, that they may live eternally free both from suffering and from want.

But if they believe that there is nothing after death, but declare that those who die pass into insensibility, then they become our benefactors when they set us free from sufferings and necessities of this life, and prove themselves to be wicked, and inhuman, and bigoted. For they kill us with no intention of delivering us, but cut us off that we may be deprived of life and pleasure.

58. And raise up heretics

And, as we said before, the devils put forward Marcion of Pontus, who is even now teaching men to deny that God is the maker of all things in heaven and on earth,

and that the Christ predicted by the prophets is His Son, and preaches another god besides the Creator of all, and likewise another son.

And this man many have believed, as if he alone knew the truth, and laugh at us, though they have no proof of what they say, but are carried away irrationally as lambs by a wolf, and become the prey of atheist doctrines, and of devils.

For they who are called devils attempt nothing else than to seduce men from God who made them, and from Christ His first-begotten;

and those who are unable to raise themselves above the earth they have riveted, and do now rivet, to things earthly, and to the works of their own hands;

but those who devote themselves to the contemplation of things divine, they secretly beat back; and if they have not a wise sober-mindedness, and a pure and passionless life, they drive them into godlessness.

59. Plato's obligation to Moses

And that you may learn that it was from our teachers— we mean the account given through the prophets— that Plato borrowed his statement that God, having altered matter which was shapeless, made the world,

hear the very words spoken through Moses, who, as above shown, was the first prophet, and of greater antiquity than the Greek writers; and through whom the Spirit of prophecy, signifying how and from what materials God at first formed the world, spoke thus:

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was invisible and unfurnished, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and it was so."

So that both Plato and they who agree with him, and we ourselves, have learned, and you also can be convinced, that by the word of God the whole world was made out of the substance spoken of before by Moses. And that which the poets call Erebus, we know was spoken of formerly by Moses. Deuteronomy 32:22

60. Plato's doctrine of the cross

And the physiological discussion concerning the Son of God in the Timæus of Plato, where he says, "He placed him crosswise in the universe," he borrowed in like manner from Moses;

for in the writings of Moses it is related how at that time, when the Israelites went out of Egypt and were in the wilderness, they fell in with poisonous beasts, both vipers and asps, and every kind of serpent, which slew the people;

and that Moses, by the inspiration and influence of God, took brass, and made it into the figure of a cross, and set it in the holy tabernacle, and said to the people, "If you look to this figure, and believe, you shall be saved thereby." Numbers 21:8

And when this was done, it is recorded that the serpents died, and it is handed down that the people thus escaped death.

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."

And hear how the Spirit of prophecy signified through Moses that there should be a conflagration. He spoke thus:

"Everlasting fire shall descend, and shall devour to the pit beneath." Deuteronomy 32:22

It is not, then, that we hold the same opinions as others, but that all speak in imitation of ours.

Among us these things can be heard and learned from persons who do not even know the forms of the letters, who are uneducated and barbarous in speech, though wise and believing in mind;

some, indeed, even maimed and deprived of eyesight; so that you may understand that these things are not the effect of human wisdom, but are uttered by the power of God.