Justin Martyr’s Conversion (AD 100 -165)
Updated: Aug 25
"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 was born and raised in the Roman city of Flavia Neapolis (ancient Shechem in Samaria). His parents were pagans, and he strived to find the meaning of life within the philosophies of his day, which brought him one disappointment after another.
Justin's first teacher was a Stoic who "knew nothing of God and did not even think knowledge of him to be necessary." After that, he followed an itinerant philosopher, who was more interested in getting his fees than his students. Justin then became a Pythagorean, but this involved a course of music, astronomy, and geometry, which he found to be too slow a journey to understanding. Finally, He embraced Platonism, though intellectually demanding, it proved unfulfilling for the longings of Justin's hungry heart.
Finally, about A.D. 130, after meeting an old man and engaging him in a conversation, the direction of his life was radically changed: "A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. 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. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do." However, the process of his conversion and transformation is a little more complicated than first appears. In various passages throughout Justin's writing, we can get an impression of what had been influential in his conversion (Trypho 2-8; 2 Apol 12).
For Justin on a search for the truth being exposes to the liberating gospel was vitally important: The understanding that ancient prophecies had been fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. Also, the inspiring reality of the 'power’ of Christ's words, which could free men and women from earthly compulsions. Along with these were the rites of Christian baptism in which: Justin had been washed, and incorporation into a new community of belonging, a community that call one another brothers and sisters (1 Apol 61).
Just as important was the teaching which Justin received, which sought to utilise Christ's teaching to influence areas of human behaviour that were compulsive in nature - sex, the occult, acquisitive materialism, and xenophobic violence. The church's application of Christ's teaching, in such areas, empowered Christian people to live freely and demonstrate love for each other in their common life (1 Apol 14).
Justin doesn't write a great deal concerning the emotional or experiential dimension of conversion. Still, we can infer from his use of language about baptism (rebirth, washing, illumination) as well as from his own testimony ("a flame was kindled in my soul" (Trypho 2.8) that during the process of conversion, he had been touched at the depths of his emotions.
After becoming a Christian and identifying with the church Justin continued to wear his philosopher's cloak and sought to reconcile faith with philosophy and reason. He moved to Ephesus in 132 A.D. to engage in a teaching ministry. It was there that he disputed with Trypho, a Jew, about the true interpretation of Scripture. Later, Justin moved to Rome, where he founded a Christian school and wrote two apologetic works. Justin's First Apology was addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius. It was published in 155 and sought to explain the Christian faith. He showed that Christianity was not a threat to the Roman state; he explained why it must be accepted as a legal religion. Justin showed why Christians are the emperor's "best helpers and allies in securing good order, convinced as we are that no wicked man ... can be hidden from God and that everyone goes to eternal punishment or salvation in accordance with the character of his actions." He, also, demonstrated that Christianity is superior to paganism, that Christ is prophecy fulfilled, and that paganism is really a poor imitation of the true religion. He was martyred in Rome in 165.