“AWAY WITH ATHEISTS!”: A Look At Justin Martyr and the Start of Apologetics

by Charlie Tinsley

What is a Christian? What a profound question to contemplate and consider. With the numerous number of denominations, sects, and subsects of Christianity, the definition certainly varies depending on who you ask. Yet, even in the Second Century, many were asking the question and many ideals arose. There seems to have arisen a passion, a passion that could not be extinguished by the Old Laws of Judaism. A passion that could not be hindered by the buffet of gods the Romans put on display for worship. A passion that Christ, Himself, started. Justin Martyr considered what it meant to be a Christian in a time when persecution of Christians was slowly beginning and martyrdom stories were making the rounds. In a world full of mystics, magicians, and pagans, Martyr took a stand in defense of Christianity in the face of unwarranted persecution by Rome in a writing that has been heralded by many a theologian even to this day. In this blog, I will take a look at Justin Martyr’s First Apology as a rebuke of Christian persecution, a growing problem under the oppression of Rome in the Second Century and as the beginning of the apologist movement.

As the aftermath of the Temple’s destruction in the Second Century started to take shape, Christians became more recognized in the Roman Empire and misunderstandings about their practices would become fuel for the ridicule and accusations against them. Chief among these accusations were cannibalism and incest[1] which certain Christian writers worked to combat and even point out instances of hypocrisy. For an ancient world struggling to define what a Christian was, there was a need for clarification. For the Christian movement and church which sought to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, there was need for defense. Both of these needs would be met in a genre of writing known as apologetics with Christian writers who were passionate in their faith. Perhaps these writers were even passionate enough to die for them.

Apologetics has been used for centuries as a method to engage society, philosophy, and science in a defense of God and the Christian faith. Margaret Miles says of Christian apologetics in the Second Century, “The primary themes of Christian apology were the unique truth of Christianity, the harmlessness and innocence of Christians, the folly of pagans, and animosity toward Jews.”[2] Moreover, these writings sought to show that Christianity was not a threat to the state and provided a defense against charges of immorality[3]. Among the writings produced during this time was First Apology by Justin Martyr in which he wrote to Emperor Antonius Pius and his two sons (Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Veras) in an effort to speak out against the persecutions against Christians without a fair trial or any evidence against them, but he also writes to defend Christians against rampant falsehoods running throughout the Roman Empire…


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