#1 Justin Martyr: 50 Figures in Church History that You Need to Know

By Ricky Njoto

This is the start of a series of short articles that explore important figures in Christian history from after the death of the apostles to the recent times. We will look at one figure per article­­, which means that it will take 50 articles to finish the whole series! Each person, however, is complex, but we will limit our exploration to 10 important facts for each. I will try to include both women and men from all Christian denominations, though it will become obvious that this is impossible to do with only 50 people on the list. Many, but not all, of the figures will be men mainly because of the lack of education of women in earlier centuries. Many, but not all, of them will be Protestants mainly because this publication is for those with Protestant heritage. Many, but not all, of the figures from the modern era will be English-speakers, again, mainly because of the nature of the publication.

We will start our list with Justin Martyr (100–165), the defender of Christian faith.

  1. Justin was born in Palestine during the time when Christianity was illegal, and Christians were persecuted in the Roman Empire.
  2. Justin’s parents practiced Roman religion, and so was he, until he converted to Christianity when he was about 32.
  3. Justin studied philosophy at Greek schools, and he used Greek philosophy and Greco-Roman mythology in relating to non-Christians. He would spend his entire life seeking to reconcile faith and reason.
  4. Because of his passion in Greek philosophy, Justin often focused his energy in engaging with non-Christians or new converts.
  5. Justin wrote two books titled Apologies and one called Dialogue with Trypho, all of which are apologetical in nature.
  6. Justin wrote his second Apologies during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor who was also a philosopher. Aurelius hated Christianity because for him it was a foolish religion. Justin, on the other hand, insisted that Christianity was the “true philosophy.”
  7. Justin’s method of explaining Christianity followed a pattern of attacking assumptions, doctrinal explanations, and practical sight:
    • He first tackled non-Christians’ assumptions about Christianity. The Romans often thought that Christians were atheists because they worshipped a man (Jesus), and they assumed that Christians were revolutionaries plotting the overthrow of the Roman state (because of their claim that Jesus was Lord, a title reserved for Caesar).
    • After that, Justin would then illustrate the superiority of Christianity in terms of its moral code and doctrine in comparison to Roman religion.
    • He would then describe the way in which Christian worship, prayer, and way of life differ from the Roman way and thus demonstrated the truth and beauty of Christianity.
  8. Justin knew the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; hence showing that the four Gospels were already accepted early in the church’s life even before the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.
  9. When Justin was arrested for his faith in Rome, the prefect asked him to denounce his faith by making a sacrifice to the gods. Justin replied, “No one who is rightly minded turns from true belief to false.”
  10. “Martyr” wasn’t his surname. In fact, people in those days didn’t have surnames. It was because he was beheaded for the true faith that he was dubbed “Martyr.”

I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable.

Justin Martyr

Ricky Njoto is a pastor of Church on the Corner, an English congregation of Camberwell Methodist Church, Melbourne.