Justin Martyr viewed the Son as subordinate to the Father.

This article continues the discussion of the Christology of the early church fathers. The introduction to this series defined the Trinity doctrine and gave a historical and conceptual development of this doctrine. The second article discussed the views of Polycarp. This third article discusses the Christology of Justin Martyr.

Justin MartyrJustin Martyr was an early Christian apologist. He was born around AD 100. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and one 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 himself 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 Justin’s view, the Greek philosophers had the most essential elements of truth but derived it from the Old Testament. Thus he declared 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 Greek philosophers had only a part of the Logos (the Word or the Wisdom), while the whole is in Christ.

SUMMARY

According to Justin Martyr, Jesus is the same as the Old Testament Angel of the LORD

He wrote that God begot Jesus “before all creatures a Beginning.”  Perhaps we can understand this as something more than ‘the first’, but the Beginning from whom all created things flowed.  In other words, the “Beginning” already contained everything in the creation.  “Through the Word, God has made everything.”  In other words, it is still God who created, but God begot the “Word” as the means through Whom God created.

Justin proposed that God begot Jesus “from Himself;” “born of the very substance of the Father.”  This harmonizes with the word homoousios (same substance) in the Nicene Creed.  However:

He defined the Logos as “numerically distinct from the Father.”  Justin used the sun and the light from the sun as a metaphor to explain the relationship between the Father and the Son; highly related but still distinct.

Justin also described the Father as “God” and as “Lord of the universe” in contrast to “our Savior Jesus Christ.”  This implies that the Son is subordinate to the Father.  Justin explicitly stated that Jesus is “in the second place” next to God. This is inconsistent with the Trinity theory.

Justin did not mention that Jesus has both a divine and a human nature or that the Holy Spirit is self-aware.  These concepts developed in later centuries.

END OF SUMMARY –

ANGEL OF THE LORD

Angel of the LORDJustin 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 Revelation refers to Him as “the Beginning of the creation of God” (Rev 3:14).

Since the Word is “rational,” He is a separate Person.

He was “born of the very substance of the Father.”  This aligns with the word homoousios (same substance) in the Nicene Creed

CREATION

Justin Martyr wrote, “through the Word, God has made everything.”  In other words, it is still God who created, but the “Word” was the means through Whom God created.

DISTINCT FROM THE FATHER

Justin Martyr described the Logos as “numerically distinct from the Father;”  “Numerically distinct” is a phrase that philosophers use in contrast to “qualitatively distinct.” Two things are “numerically distinct” if they are two different things, even when they are extremely similar; qualitatively the same.  Justin used the sun and the light from the sun as a metaphor to explain the relationship between the Father and the Son: The sun and the light from the sun are highly related but still distinct entities.

For Justin Martyr, the Father is God.  This is seen in the statement quoted above that “through the Word, God has made everything.”  That also means that Jesus is also distinct from God.

SUBORDINATE

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.”  This confirms the distinction between God and Jesus. 

Justin also added in a few words to exalt the Father over the Son and over the Holy Spirit.  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 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):

The Cross of ChristNo 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.

Matt 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 makes a distinction between God and His Son and declares the Father to be superior over the Son.

CONCLUSION

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. 

Justin understood the Son to be “born of the very substance of the Father,” but still distinct from and subordinate to God, the Father.  Justin did not mention that Jesus has both a divine and a human nature or that the Holy Spirit is self-aware.  These concepts developed in later centuries.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

FIRST 300 YEARS

FOURTH CENTURY

FIFTH CENTURY

LATER DEVELOPMENT

How did the early church fathers interpret Daniel 9?

ABSTRACT: This article discusses Jewish views and surveys the interpretations of 12 Christian writers of the first four centuries. The purpose is to determine how their views compared to those of modern interpreters. It shows that there was a strong consensus among the early church fathers that Daniel’s seventy weeks prophecy was fulfilled in Christ.

PURPOSE

This is a summary of a scholarly article by Paul Tanner. For more detail and references, please see that article.

Most critical scholars do not see the Messiah in Daniel 9. They believe that the prophecy was fulfilled in the second century B.C., in the time of Antiochus IV.

Jewish exegetes tend to see the fulfillment of this passage with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.

In contrast, although the church fathers of the first four centuries after Christ differed over the details of interpretation, this article shows that there was a strong consensus among them that Daniel’s seventy weeks were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Just a disclaimer not mentioned by Tanner: According to Daniel 12:4, the prophecies of Daniel will only be understood in “the end of time.”

JEWISH INTERPRETATIONS

While the modern translations say that the Messiah will be cut off after the 62 weeks (Daniel 9:26), the pre-Christian Old Greek translation stated that “the anointing will be taken away” after 139 (years). Then “the kingdom of the Gentiles will destroy the city and the temple with the anointed one.” This was then interpreted as 139 years after the beginning of the Seleucid era (311–310 B.C.), bringing us to 172–71 B.C., that is, the approximate year of the murder of the high priest Onias III during the troublesome times of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. It seems, therefore, as if, in the centuries after Antiochus IV, the Jews interpreted the passage to refer to Antiochus IV and the translators adapted the translation accordingly.

The Essenes were a mystic Jewish sect that flourished from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE. For them:

    • The promised Messiah is the Messiah of Israel; the Son of David.
    • The 70 weeks began with the return from the Exile.
    • The 70 weeks (490 years) will expire between 3 B.C. and A.D. 2.
    • The Messiah will arrive in the preceding 7 years.

There is, therefore, evidence for both a messianic and nonmessianic interpretation of the 70 weeks prophecy before the Christian era. However, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70 decisively altered the Jewish interpretations of Daniel 9:24–27. Beckwith concludes:

“Up to A.D. 70, … the different reckonings of the seventy weeks … must have existed among the rabbis as three rival interpretations. After A.D. 70, however, when the Messiah had not come as expected, but the desolation also foretold in Daniel 9:26–27 had, it was natural to tie the end of the seventy weeks to A.D. 70 and also to adopt a non-messianic interpretation of the prophecy.” (Beckwith, “Daniel 9 and the Date of Messiah’s Coming,” 536.)

For example:

Josephus, a historian and a member of the priestly aristocracy of the Jews, who lived from 37 A.D. to about 100 A.D., viewed the fulfillment of the prophecy in the events leading up to A.D. 70.

The Jewish chronological work, Seder Olam Rabbah, which was composed about A.D. 160, and which provides a chronological record that extends from Adam to the Bar Kokhba revolt of A.D. 132–135, claims that the seventy weeks were seventy years of exile in Babylon followed by another 420 years until the destruction of the second temple in A.D. 70.

CHRISTIAN WRITERS

JUSTIN MARTYR

Early Christian writers often used the 70-weeks prophecy to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the promised Messiah. For that reason, it is strange that Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 153–165) never made a reference to Daniel 9 in his apologetic work Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, though he made fourteen other references to Daniel.

IRENAEUS

The earliest clear Christian reference to Daniel 9:24–27 is by Irenaeus (ca. A.D. 180). He did not explain the 490 years or the 7 years or the 434 years or the Messiah in Daniel 9:25-26. What he did was to interpret the little horn of Daniel 7 as the Antichrist and to associate the little horn’s period of dominance (“a time, times, and half a time” – Dan 7:25, 12:7) with the last half of the 70th week. On the basis of Matthew 24:15, he interpreted Daniel 9:27 as that “the abomination of desolation shall be brought into the temple” when the Antichrist literally goes into the Jewish temple for the purpose of presenting himself as Christ.

CLEMENT

Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 200) was the first Christian writer to explain the time periods in Daniel 9, although he was a bit vague about the details. For him:

    • The “most holy” one (Dan 9:24) is Jesus Christ.
    • The 490 years began with Cyrus.
    • The first seven weeks (49 years) were the period of the construction of the temple.
    • The 62 weeks led up to the first advent of Christ.
    • The final week includes Nero’s erection of an “abomination” in Jerusalem as well as the destruction of the city and temple in AD 70.

Clement, therefore, included both Jesus Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in the 490 years. But this implies a gap between the first 69 weeks and the last week.

TERTULLIAN

Tertullian (ca. A.D. 203) had a unique explanation of the time periods. Instead of three periods for the seventy “weeks” (7 + 62 + 1), he has only two: 62½ and another of 7½. For Tertullian:

    • The “anointing” of the “most holy” (Dan 9:24) refers to Christ.
    • The first period of 62½ weeks (i.e., 437 1/2 years) was the period from Darius (when Daniel received the vision) until the birth of Christ.
    • With His first coming, “vision and prophecy” were “sealed” (Dan 9:24 – i.e., there is no longer a vision or a prophet to announce His coming).
    • The final 7½ (i.e., 52½ years) refer to the time from the birth of Christ until the first year of Vespasian (Roman emperor from AD 69 to 79) when Herod’s temple was destroyed.

Tertullian therefore, by making certain calculation errors, was able to include both Jesus Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in the 490 years. Therefore, he did not need a gap as Clement did.

HIPPOLYTUS

Hippolytus (A.D. 202–230) wrote the first extant commentary on Daniel. For Him:

    • The “anointing of “the most holy” in Daniel 9:24 refers to the anointing of Christ in His first coming.
    • The first seven weeks were the 49 years before Joshua, the high priest. The Messiah in verse 25 is this Joshua.
    • This was followed by 62 weeks (434 years) from Joshua, Zerubbabel, and Ezra until Jesus Christ.
    • The Messiah in verse 26, who was cut off, is Jesus Christ.
    • The final week will be a future period of seven years in which the Antichrist will come to power. Then Elijah and Enoch will appear as the two witnesses (Rev 11:3-4).
    • This means that a “gap” of time will separate the first 69 weeks and the final “week.”

Hippolytus, therefore, interpreted the Messiah as Jesus Christ but, similar to modern Dispensationalism, interpreted the final week as a future period of seven years when the Antichrist will rule. This type of interpretation follows from the assumption that the crisis in Daniel 9:27 is the same as the crisis caused by the little horn of Daniel 7. One of the articles on this website has concluded that this is an incorrect assumption and that, while Daniel 9 deals with Israel and the 490 years allocated to her, the other prophecies in Daniel deal with all nations and all time (see, same crisis?).

JULIUS AFRICANUS

For Julius (writing after A.D. 232):

    • The 490 years began with Artaxerxes’ second decree in the twentieth year of his reign (444 B.C.).
    • The seventy weeks came to an end when Christ was baptized and entered into His public ministry (A.D. 28–29). Therefore, the entire seventy weeks were fulfilled by the time of the first advent of Christ.
    • From 444 BC to 28 AD is only 472 years (475 in Julius’ calculation); not 490. To make it fit, Julius claimed that the Jews, on the basis of moon months, reckoned a year as 354 days. This reduces the 490 to 475 literal years.

Julius did not explain how the 70th week relates to his view.

ORIGEN

For Origen (after A.D. 215):

    • Daniel’s seventy weeks-prophecy was fulfilled in Christ.
    • The seventy weeks began with Darius the Mede.
    • The Messiah in Daniel 9:25 is Jesus Christ.

In his commentary on Matthew, Origen had a different interpretation in which:

    • The “weeks” are “weeks of decades” rather than “weeks of years.”
    • There are 4,900 years from Adam to the end of the last week.

Origen also espoused extensive allegorical interpretations. For example, he said:

    • “The going forth of a word to restore” refers to God’s command at Creation.
    • “To restore and rebuild Jerusalem” refers to Christ’s coming.
    • The Messiah in verse 26, who was cut off, refers to the high priesthood, and the “cutting off” was the termination of the Hasmonean line by Herod the Great.
    • The final week is the seventy years extending from the Day of Pentecost.
    • The “middle of the week” was the destruction of the temple and the city.
    • The “prince who is to come” was the Jewish king of that time (apparently Agrippa II).

It is, therefore, a bit difficult to pin Origen down non this matter, but it is clear that he saw the prophecy as fulfilled in the first century A.D.

EUSEBIUS

The church historian Eusebius Pamphili (ca. 260–ca. 340) gave an extended discussion of Daniel 9:20–27 in his Demonstratio evangelica (book 8, chap. 2):

FIRST 69 WEEKS

    • The 490 years began with the completion of the temple in the second year of Darius (516-515 B.C.).
    • The 69 weeks concluded in the days of King Herod and the Roman emperor Augustus in 36–32 B.C.
    • The Messiah was cut off (v26) when the last of the “high priest-governors” was removed with the death of John Hyrcanus II, who was murdered by Herod in 30 B.C.
    • The destruction of the city and sanctuary was fulfilled in a metaphorical sense with Herod the Great and then literally by the Romans in A.D. 70.

LAST WEEK

    • The covenant in the seventieth week is the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus Christ.
    • The first half of the week was the 3½ years of His public ministry.
    • He will put a stop to sacrifice” (Dan 9:27) was fulfilled at His death, when the veil in the temple was rent in two and the sacrifices were removed (i.e., from God’s point of view, they were no longer viewed as valid).
    • The second half of the week was fulfilled in Jesus’ post-resurrection period.
    • The “abomination” in Daniel 9:27 was fulfilled when Pilate brought the images of Caesar into the temple by night.

This interpretation seems to require a gap between the first 69 weeks and the last week.

APOLLINARIS

For Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea (ca. A.D. 360):

    • The seventy weeks was the time between the two advents of Christ.
    • The 70th week would occur at the end of the world. At that time, the Antichrist would be manifested, literally enter the temple (2 Thess. 2), and issue a decree outlawing the offering of sacrifices.

In other words, Apollinaris was expecting the return of Christ within a hundred years of the time he wrote. As stated under Hippolytus, in the view of this website, this type of interpretation confuses Daniel 9:27 with the crisis of the little horn of Daniel 7.

JULIUS HILARIANUS

Hilarianus (A.D. 397) was “the first patristic writer to adopt a non-Messianic interpretation of the Seventy Weeks.” (Knowles, “The Interpretations of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel in the Early Fathers,” 155.) For Hilarianus:

    • The seventy weeks extended from the first year of Darius to the end of the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century B.C.
    • “The anointed one the prince” in verse 25 refers to Zerubbabel who was the leader of the first return of the Jews.
    • The event that marks the middle of the week is the pollution of the temple by Antiochus which introduced the abomination of desolation in the form of heathen images in the temple.

In advocating this Maccabean view, however, Hilarianus is essentially alone among early church fathers.

JEROME

Jerome (A.D. 407) wrote a significant commentary on the Book of Daniel. In his discussion of Daniel 9:24-27, he declined to offer an interpretation of his own and was content to quote from or summarize the positions of several earlier church fathers.

AUGUSTINE

Without interpreting the time periods, Augustine (A.D. 407-430) wrote:

“All of the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks was fulfilled at Christ’s first advent; therefore, it is not to be expected that the events will occur again at the second advent.”

SUMMARY

Justin Martyr (A.D. 153–165) did not mention Daniel 9.

Irenaeus (A.D. 180) mentioned it but did not interpret the time periods or the Messiahs.

Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 200) included both Jesus Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in the 490 years. His interpretation implies a gap between the first 69 weeks and the last week.

Tertullian (A.D. 203), by making certain calculation errors, was able to include both Jesus Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in the 490 years without a gap.

Hippolytus (A.D. 202–230) interpreted the Messiah as Jesus Christ but, similar to Dispensationalism, interpreted the final week as a future period of seven years when the Antichrist will rule.

Julius Africanus (A.D. 232) proposed that the full 490 years came to an end with Jesus’ baptism.

For Origen (A.D. 215), the Messiah in Daniel 9:25 is Jesus Christ and Daniel’s seventy-weeks prophecy was fulfilled in Christ.

The church historian Eusebius (A.D. 314–318) interpreted the first half of the week as the 3½ years of Jesus’ public ministry and the second half as fulfilled after Jesus was resurrected. In the middle of the ‘week’, He “put a stop to sacrifice” (Dan 9:27) through His death.

Apollinaris of Laodicea (A.D. 360) regarded the seventy weeks as the time between the two advents of Christ. The 70th week would be a period at the end of the world when the Antichrist will literally enter the temple and issue a decree outlawing the offering of sacrifices.

Julius Hilarianus (A.D. 397) was the first patristic writer to adopt a non-Messianic interpretation of the Seventy Weeks. For him, the event that marks the middle of the week was the pollution of the temple by Antiochus which introduced heathen images in the temple.

Jerome (A.D. 407) simply summarized the positions of several earlier church fathers.

Augustine (A.D. 407-430) stated that the 70 weeks were fulfilled at Christ’s first advent.

CONCLUSIONS

From the literature that is available, some vital conclusions can be drawn:

(A) WEEKS OF YEARS

All the early church fathers, along with Jewish scholars, interpreted the “weeks” as weeks of seven years and applied this quite literally.

(B) HISTORIC-MESSIANIC

Of the 12 Christian writers surveyed above, 3 (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Jerome) did not offer interpretations. Of the remaining 9, all but one of them held to some form of messianic interpretation of Daniel’s prophecy, meaning that the prophecy referred to Jesus Christ. The exception was Hilarianus who held to fulfillment in the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century B.C. Of the 8 messianic interpretations:

Two (Apollinaris and Hippolytus) opted for a messianic-eschatological position in which the Messiah is Jesus in His first advent but the last week is some future point beyond the first century, such as the reign of Antichrist.

The remaining six all favored a messianic-historical position, meaning that the entire seventy weeks were fulfilled at some point in the first century A.D.

In conclusion, although they varied greatly in their details, there was a strong consensus among the early church fathers that Daniel’s seventy weeks prophecy was fulfilled in Christ.

(C) A GAP

Three of these early Christian writers required a gap between the first 69 weeks and the last week:

Clement proposed that the 62 weeks led up to the first advent of Christ and the final week includes the destruction in AD 70.

For Eusebius, the 69 weeks concluded in the days of King Herod in 36–32 B.C. and the last week was the years before and after Jesus died.

Hippolytus viewed the final week eschatologically – at the time when the Antichrist will reign.

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