Justin Martyr was an early Christian apologist. He was born around AD 100. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue did survive. The First Apology, his most well-known text, passionately defends the morality of the Christian life and provides various arguments to convince the Roman emperor to abandon the persecution of the Church. But apparently he failed, for he was martyred, more or less in the year 165, alongside some of his students. It is for that reason that he is called Justin Martyr.
In his view, the Greek philosophers had derived the most essential elements of truth, found in their teaching, from the Old Testament. Thus he does not hesitate to declare that many historical Greek philosophers, such as Socrates and Heraclitus, in whose works he was well studied, were unknowing Christians (Apol., i. 46, ii. 10). However, in his view, the old philosophers had only a part of the Logos (the Word or Wisdom), while the whole is in Christ.
Justin Martyr identified Jesus with the Logos of John 1 and Revelation 19, He also identified Jesus with the Angel of the LORD and with many other Theophanies of the Old Testament. He used this argument to convince Jews of the truth of Christianity.
Origin of Christ
Justin Martyr described Jesus as follows:
“God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself” (Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 61). He was “born of the very substance of the Father.”
To describe the Word as “a Beginning” implies that God’s purpose, in begetting the Son, was to create all things. We often read in the Bible about “the beginning,” such as that “in the beginning, God created heaven and earth.” But Justin Martyr thought of Jesus Himself as the Beginning. Jesus is also described as “the beginning” in Colossians 1:18, and the Revelator referred to Him as “the Beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14).
Since the Word is “rational,” He is a separate Person.
Justin Martyr wrote, “through the Word, God has made everything.” In other words, it is still God who created, but He created “through the Word.”
Justin Martyr described the Logos as “numerically distinct from the Father;” “Numerically distinct” is a phrase that philosophers use. It stands in contrast to “qualitatively distinct” and means that one being is different from another, even when they are extremely similar; qualitatively the same. Justin used the sun as a metaphor to explain the relationship between the Father and the Son: The sun and the light that comes from the sun are highly related but still distinct entities.
For Justin Martyr Jesus was distinct from the Father, but in his view the Father is God. This is seen in the statement quoted above that “through the Word, God has made everything.” That means that Jesus is also distinct from God.
In Matthew 28;19 Jesus told His disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Justin similarly wrote:
“For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water” (First Apol., LXI).
This expands Matthew 28, for Justin replaced “the Father” with “God, the Father.” He also added in a few words to exalt the Father over the Son and over the Holy Spirit. The reference to “God, the Father” confirms the distinction between God and Jesus. Furthermore, the description of the Father as “God” and as “Lord of the universe” and implies that the Son is subordinate to the Father.
Justin continues to speak about baptism in the very next paragraph. He again equates God with the Father, in distinction to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and describes God alone as ineffable (indescribable):
“No one can utter the name of the ineffable God…And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost …” (First Apology 61)
In his First Apology 8, Justin explicitly states that Jesus is “in the second place” next to God. This clearly evidences his view that the Son is subordinate to the Father.
Slick quoted Justin’s version of the baptismal creed because it mentions all three Persons, but the way in which the church fathers in the second and third century used these triadic passages make a distinction between God and His Son and declare the Father to be superior over the Son.
Justin Martyr’s understanding of Christ and the Trinity may be summarized as follows:
The Father, who is God, begot the Son before all creatures. The Father begot Him as a Beginning; born of the very substance of the Father; a rational power that proceeded from God; numerically distinct from God and subordinate to the Father. Through Him, God has made all things. In Old Testament times the Son appeared as the Angel of the LORD. In these quotes Justin did mention substance, but not that Jesus has both a divine and a human nature or that the Holy Spirit is self-aware.