Justin Martyr was an early Christian (100 AD to 165 AD) who was martyred for his faith; but his writings demonstrate some of the attitudes towards Jews and things Jewish. For example, Justin wrote to Trypho, a Jewish contemporary, that..
We, too, would observe your circumcision of the flesh, your Sabbath days, and in a word, all your festivals, if we were not aware of the reason why they were imposed upon you, namely, because of your sins and your hardness of heart.
This single sentence illustrates that early Christianity was grasping for reasons to separate itself from Judaism, particularly when we know from the writings of Epiphanus (see post on the Nazarenes) that the early church kept the Sabbath and other Jewish festivals. Because Justin Martyr ‘knew’ why God had given the Sabbath and festivals to the Jews, he was justifying breaking with those commandments. Maybe we should call him Justin the Justifier.
Justin further writes in Dialogues with Trypho that:
If we do not accept this conclusion, then we shall fall into absurd ideas, as the nonsense either that our God is not the same God who existed in the days of Henoch and all the others, who were not circumcised in the flesh, and did not observe the Sabbaths and other rites, since Moses only imposed them later; or that God does not wish each succeeding generation of mankind always to perform the same acts of righteousness. Either supposition is ridiculous and preposterous. Therefore we must conclude that God, who is immutable, ordered these and similar things to be done only because of sinful men.
– Dialogue 18, 2, Falls, Justin’s Writings, p. 175
I think most theologians would disagree with Justin’s assertion that the Sabbath and festivals were given to punish sinful men; in the light of modern times it is easy to see the flaws of Justin’s logic, yet here we are, still living out errors propagated two thousand years ago.
Of all those Christians who reject these principles of Judaism, none today ascribe to Justin Martyr’s thesis that the law was given to Jews because of their sins and hardness of heart. Today, the reasons are different, but the end result is the same; we’ve found a way to separate ourselves from original principles.
Justin then states that…
The custom of circumcising the flesh, handed down from Abraham, was given to you as a distinguishing mark, to se you off from other nations and from us Christians. The purpose of this was that you and only you might suffer the afflictions that are now justly yours; that only your land be desolated, and your cities ruined by fire, that the fruits of your land be eaten by strangers before your very eyes; that not one of you be permitted to enter your city of Jerusalem. Your circumcision of the flesh is the only mark by which you can certainly be distinguished from other men…
As I stated before, it was by reason of your sins and the sins of your fathers that, among other precepts, God imposed upon you the observance of the Sabbath as a mark.
– Dialogue 16, 1, Falls, Justin’s Writings, p. 172, 178
You have spared no effort in disseminating in every land bitter, dark, and unjust accusations against the only guiltless and just light sent to men by God… The other nations have not treated Christ and us, his followers, as unjustly as have you Jews, who indeed, are the very instigators of that evil opinion they have of the Just One and of us, His disciples… You are to blame not only for your own wickedness, but also for that of all others.
– Dialogue 17, Falls, Justin’s Writings, p. 173, 174
To the utmost of your power you dishonor and curse in your synagogues all those who believe in Christ… In your synagogues you curse all those who through them have become Christians, and the Gentiles put into effect your curse by killing all those who merely admit that they are Christians.
You do all in your power to force us to deny Christ. We resist you and prefer to endure death, confident that God will give us all the blessings which He promised us through Christ.
– Dialogue 16 and 96, Falls, Justin’s Writings, p. 172, 299
On a day which is called Sunday we have a common assembly of all who live in the cities or in the outlying districts, and the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets are read, as long as there is time.
Sunday, indeed, is the day on which we all hold our common assembly because it is the first day on which God, transforming the darkness and prime matter, created the world; and our Savior Jesus Christ arose from the dead on the same day. For they crucified him on the day before that of Saturn, and on the day after, which is Sunday, he appeared to his Apostles and disciples, and taught them the things which we have passed on to you also for consideration.
– Justin, I Apology 67, 3-7, Falls, Justin’s Writings, p. 106-107
Interesting how Justin Martyr argues for a new day of worship by tying Sunday to the first day of creation. We see here simple human logic at work; Justin and other early Christians desired to be as different from Judaism as possible because Rome was persecuting and taxing Jews. To come up with reasons for changing the day of worship was simply an of an act of survival. Ultimately, Justin was martyred anyway.
It is written that God once allowed the Sun to be worshipped, and yet you cannot discover anyone who ever suffered death because of his faith in the Sun. But you can find men of every nationality who for the name of Jesus have suffered faith in Him. For His word of truth and wisdom is more blazing and bright than the might of the sun, and it penetrates the very depths of the heart and mind.
– Justin, Dialogue 121, Falls, Justin’s Writings, p. 335; cf. Dialogue 64 and 128.
As Bacchiocchi rightly wonders, isn’t it interesting that Justin Martyr, living in Rome, would want to give credit to sun worship? Could it be to align himself with the Roman authorities, who even in that day worshipped the chief diety and sun-god Saturn on Sunday?
It’s pretty clear from the writings of Justin Martyr and other early Christian leaders, as well as historians like Ephiphanus, that in the first few hundred years after the death and resurrection of Christ, the early church experienced a schism from Judaism, and took on new, man-made principles and practices.
If we can see this, then we might be able to, on an individual level, foster a renewed appreciation for Judaism in so far as those practices are practicable – and taking care to distinguish from the written law and the oral traditions of the fathers and rabbis as written in the Babylonian Talmud and other writings.