Orthodox America

   From a Missionary Dialogue

By Saint Justin Martyr

Below is an excerpt from A Dialogue in Answer to the Jews, in which the author (whose Life appears [elsewhere in this issue]) reconstructs a discussion he had in Ephesus with the eminent Hebrew, Trypho.

"You Christians," contended Trypho, "have all received an idle report, and have formed a Christ for yourselves, for whose sake you inconsiderately throw away your lives."

"You are excusable, man!" I replied, "and may it be forgiven you; for you speak you know not what, but you follow your teachers who understand not the Scriptures, and utter at random whatever comes into your mind.  If you will receive proof that we have not been deluded, and shall not cease to confess Christ, even though we thereby incur the reproaches of men, and the most cruel tyrant should endeavor to compel us to renounce Him, I will prove to you, where you stand, that we do not confide in baseless fables nor in empty words, but in doctrines which are full of Divine Spirit, and overflowing with power, and abounding in grace."

"There never will be any other God, Trypho, nor has there ever been any from eternity," I said, "but the One who created and ordered everything that we see; nor do we hold your God to be one and our own to be another, but we acknowledge one and the same, even He who brought up your forefathers from the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm, nor do we put our trust in any other-for there is no other-but only in Him whom you also adore, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  Our hope is, however, not through Moses, nor through the Law, or there would be no difference between you and ourselves; but I have read that there should hereafter be a final law, and a covenant more mighty than all others, which everyone who hopes for the inheritance of God should henceforth observe.  The law given at Horeb has become obsolete, and was for you Jews only, but the one of which I speak is for all men alike. A new law passed upon a law abrogates that which is old, and in like manner does a subsequent covenant annul a former one. An everlasting and perfect law, and a faithful covenant, is given to us, even Christ, after which there shall be no other law, or ordinance, or command...

"This very law you have despised, and His new and holy covenant have you set at nought, and even now you receive it not, nor do you repent of your evil deeds, for still 'your ears are stopped, and your eyes are blinded, and your heart is waxed gross'. And Jeremiah has cried, but you have not listened to him.  The Lawgiver is come, but you discern Him not; 'the poor have the Gospel preached to them, the blind see, but you understand not. You need a second circumcision, and yet you think much of that of the flesh. The new law commands you to keep a perpetual sabbath, and you rest on one day and think that you are religious, not considering why that commandment was given you. Again, if you eat unleavened bread, you say that you have fulfilled the will of God; but it is not by such means that the Lord our God is pleased.  If any of you is guilty of perjury or theft, let him sin no more.  If any be an adulterer, let him repent, and then he will have kept a true and pleasant sabbath of God.   If any has unclean hands, let him wash, and he will be pure...

"But that you may have no pretence for saying that Christ must have been crucified, or that the transgression must have been in your nation, and it was impossible to be otherwise, I said briefly before, that God, wishing angels and men to follow His will, was pleased to create them with free power to practice righteousness, with reason to know Him by Whom they were created, and through Whom they, who were not previously in existence, derive their being, and with a law that they should be judgedby Him if they act contrarily to right reason.  And it is through our own fault that we, both men and angels, shall be convicted of sin, unless we hasten to repent.

And if the word of God foretells that some, both angels and men, shall certainly be punished, it does so because God foreknew that they would become unchangeably wicked, and not because He made them so. Wherefore if they repent, all who wish can obtain mercy from God; and the Scripture pronounces them blessed, saying, Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin, that is, that having repented of his sins, he may obtain remission of them from God; but not, as you, and some others who resemble you in this particular, deceive yourselves, and say that even if they be sinners and know God, the Lord will not impute sin to them..." Trypho, after pausing for a time, said, "You see that it was not from design that we entered on a conversation with you on these subjects, and I confess that I have been exceedingly gratified by our meeting, and I think that these friends of mine will feel like myself; for we have found more than we expected, or than it was possible for us ever to have expected. But if we could do this more frequently, we should derive more profit, examining the very words of Scripture: but since," he said, "you are on the point of leaving, and daily expect to sail, do not think it a trouble to remember us as your friends when you go away."

"For my part," I replied, "if I had to remain, I would have wished to do this same thing every day: but expecting now, God willing and aiding, to set sail, I exhort you to apply yourselves to this very great struggle for your own salvation, and to be careful to prefer the Christ of Almighty God to your teachers."

After this they left me, praying that I might be preserved both from the dangers of my voyage, and from every calamity.  And I prayed for them, and said, "I cannot wish you, sirs, any greater benefit than that, knowing that through this way wisdom is given to every man, you may assuredly believe with us that ours is the Christ of God."

(Reprinted from A Treasury of Early Christianity, selected and edited by Anne Fremantle, Viking Press 1953.)